It’s not until you don’t have a job that you realise how often people ask you about your job.

When I was at the supermarket buying the pomegranates and pistachios I needed to make this cake (amongst other essentials such as Greek yoghurt, bacon, and gin, since I am not quite decadent or alliterative enough to buy only pomegranates and pistachios and call it a weekly shop) the kind lady at the till asked me, smiling, ‘So, day off work today then?’

‘Yes’, I smiled back, lying.

When I was at the having an eye exam, the sweet young girl checking my prescription asked, conversationally, ‘What do you do then?’

‘I’m an administrator’, I lied, and politely asked her how long she’d been at that optician’s practice.

When I got into a ridiculous accident and ended up in hospital, the friendly A&E consultant (after placating me with stupendous amounts of prescription painkillers) enquired ‘Will you be alright at work?’

‘Oh yes, definitely, I’ll be fine!’ I reassured him brightly.

Yeah, of course I’d be fine, as I had no work to go to.

I haven’t been unemployed before. I went straight from school to university and into work. And, let me be clear, I am not in any way deserving of pity. I had a job, and I wasn’t fired, or made redundant. I quit. I quit because the job was making me absolutely and completely unsustainably miserable. It makes me feel a bit pathetic really, because I don’t think I had much right to be upset about it. I would cry before I left for work and I would cry when I came home, and sometimes I’d lock myself in the stationery cupboard in the office and cry there. But it’s not like I was sweeping chimneys, or crawling through sewer pipes, or cleaning deep fat fryers, so what right did I have to be so unhappy? Then again, I always think that’s a bit of a pointless way to think: would you think you didn’t have the right to be happy if other people had reasons to be happier than you? But still, it bothered me.

Anyway. Everyone around me – friends and family – saw me struggling and told me it wasn’t worth it, and that I should just leave. I knew I would be returning to studying full-time come September, and so I thought I would spend the last two months of summer left to me before that living off my savings, doing odd bits of freelance work, writing, organising, helping friends, and cooking lots.

The sense of relief I felt when I walked out of that job was enormous. But it’s been challenging, in its own way, too. It’s difficult to feel purposeless, and to have a lack of structure. It’s scary not to have any consistent money coming in. It’s a complicated situation to explain to people. It makes me feel lazy and entitled. I thrive when incredibly busy, and now it seems like I have deep vast rivers of time to float in, drifting gently on my back downstream in the glow of the hazy July sunshine.

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I am completely aware that these challenges are nothing compared to those faced by people who genuinely cannot get a job, who are stuck in unemployment and wish desperately not to be, people for whom the subject money is a constant, gnawing knot of panic that sits in a hard lump beneath every thought. I am in the incredibly privileged position of having something else diverting to go to come September and enough money to live on until then. I chose the situation I am in now, while I am painfully aware that others do not have that choice.

And that, I suppose, is why I end up lying to people who ask me about my work. People don’t expect me to be unemployed, and in telling them that I am I would be giving them an incorrect impression: they might believe that I am struggling, and that I am hopelessly trying to find work, rather than taking a voluntary break and putting myself firmly into this camp. My situation is complicated to explain, and it’s easier to just pretend I am still at my old job in passing situations, rather than to bog people down in unnecessary detail that they don’t care about: ‘Well… actually, I’m not working at the moment.I quit my job. Because I’m going back to study, see. In September. So I’m a student! But not really. So I’m unemployed, really. I mean, not exactly, I do a bit of freelance work. But by choice! So it’s okay! Sort of…’

If I’m being completely honest, I worry that all of these people with legitimate jobs will look down on me when they hear I’m unemployed, perhaps even more so when they hear I chose to be this way.

So, on that cheerful note, onto the cake!

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Source: Edd Kimber’s blog – the original recipe can be found hereI have tweaked it, but the glorious pomegranate and pistachio combination is his. Well, I thought of it, and then Googled it and realised someone else had gotten there first. This happens to me a lot.

Notes: This actually makes a pretty huge cake, but it keeps well and retains moisture for a couple of days. My taste-testers included the gorgeous young sons of a friend of mine. One of them apparently doesn’t like cake (I know, right?), and yet liked this. I am assured there can be no higher praise.

Ingredients:

225g butter at room temperature
200g light brown soft sugar
zest of three lemons
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
70g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
200g shelled pistachios, plus spare to decorate
1 pomegranate, seeded

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4, and grease a 23cm cake tin, preferably springform. Line the base of the tin.
  2. Put your pistachios and 1 tbsp of flour in a food processor and pulse until finely ground and sandy, but make sure to stop before they become a paste.
  3. Cream your butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then add your lemon zest. Gradually beat in the eggs. Sieve your flour, baking powder and salt until well combined, and then stir your ground pistachios into this dry mixture. Fold the flour mixture into the wet batter gently, until just combined.
  4. Place in your tin and bake for around 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden, firm to touch, and passes the skewer test. Once the cake is out of the oven, let it cool, and then remove it from the tin. Cover with your pomegranate seeds and the remaining pistachios.