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Observing life: From browsing to baking, The National 26.04.11

Somehow I have managed to find myself in two book clubs – no mean feat for someone who manages to read only about 10 pages a night before nodding off. But I love both of the clubs; they’re very different and I’m not willing to let either of them go.

My original book club is rather special as it is hosted and organised by an Emirati. This has given me fabulous cross-cultural insights during the past seven years and created an enduring friendship. During a brief hiatus from our meetings, while our host moved overseas for a while, I joined a smaller club organised by some British friends. Then, a year later, my original book club resumed. To help me in this predicament, I’m ashamed to say, I try to manipulate our reading lists so they overlap.

Each month in the smaller club we risk the fact that we will get through dinner and still not have got round to talking about the book, having spent so long just generally catching up. It is probably this sort of informal gathering of women, often over dinner, that got some husbands thinking the whole “book club” thing was simply a ruse for a girls’ night out.

So, the men hit back. Earlier this year, a group of Abu Dhabi husbands formed a men-only book club: the Abu Dhabi Men’s Page Turners Club. They meet monthly in Abu Dhabi, normally around a sporting event and, well, hang out. I am told the only rule is: no books. Identical therefore, they assert, to their wives’ gatherings.

So girls, we’ve been rumbled. Now’s the time to try to outfox them with something new: bake clubs. They’ve been big in the United States for a few years and are starting to creep eastward, fuelled by a booming interest in baking and a desire to return to “real” or “old-fashioned” values.

In a bake club, such as the Clandestine Cake Club in the UK, members bake a cake – proper old fashioned sponges and the like, no muffins – then meet up at a prearranged venue notified on the website to eat, swap recipes and meet people. Inspired by the concept, groups of like-minded individuals have set up their own cake clubs around the UK.

Last month, the artisan baker and provider of cupcakes to the stars, Lily Vanilli, launched a bake club in London called “180″, named after the recommended temperature for baking cakes. At their first meeting in London, members admired the innovative and striking cakes as they socialised.

Not great for that beach-ready-body, I admit, but there are few simple pleasures to rival that of a house filled with the smells of baking and a glorious Victoria Sponge on the table. Match that if you can, lads; we’re throwing down the oven glove.

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