Sonhood 1, Sonhood 2, Sonhood 3, Sonhood 4

The population that worked in the tourism trade inBournemouthwas almost as transient as the populations of visitors. Catering businesses could make a quick killing and there was a considerable turnover of cafes and snack bars.

The area was evolving and growing. The nature of the market place for baking goods was also becoming more complicated and competitive. ThepeakofDad’s business coincided with the beginning of the transformation of the English High Street. The opening hours of convenience stores began to grow longer. At first these were good customers for us but gradually they began to compete with our shops and demand larger and larger discounts.  Running a small business is always a balancing act, keeping all your balls in the air while trying to turn a profit is hard enough, doing it in the context of the vagaries of the English summer was sometimes next to impossible. Then the multinationals began to move into the neighbourhoods with reasonable quality bread and cakes available at hours to suit everyone. An unequal struggle became a hopeless one and many of these kinds of independent bakers disappeared or were replaced by a dwindling number of national chains.

Easter was the most lucrative festival of all. There was the mass production of thousands of hot cross buns that had a small margin but could be produced cheaply and in bulk. A little spice and the consistent supply of fresh sticky buns was the key to a successful hot cross bun operation. There were also the high margins on our own line of Easter Eggs and chocolate novelty animals. I still have some of the moulds and threaten each year to try and make them.  The summer also had bulk production but there were no really high margins to be made. At Christmas people wanted special cakes and puddings and these kept well and could be sent out in advance of the holiday itself. People also bought in bulk but this was concentrated into a couple of days. So though in terms of turnover Christmas was not the best season, in terms of effort it had the most sustained intensity. This was derived from the tradition of a general shut down for the holiday period.

The bakery and bakers’ shops would only be closed for two days at the most over the holidays. But even this brief closure inspired frenzied buying. For some reason the prospect of not being able to get fresh bread and cakes frightens the English – even though, unlike the French, they prefer old bread and will continue eating it long after it is stale. This has been an issue for many years. A writer in the Food Journal for 1870 lamented: “Why is it that, in this highly favoured Isle, we must refrain from eating fresh bread, as if it were poison; unless, indeed, one happens to possess the stomach of an ostrich and the constitution of a rhinoceros?”[1] I marvel sometimes as I walk around Sainsbury’s at the diversity and freshness that the supermarkets have brought to the British bakery scene. Though shelf after shelf of the cut bread remains it is now easy to find reasonably good quality fresh bread. And the prices! My Dad would have loved the idea of a £4 loaf of organic stone ground bread.

The holidays produced irrational consumers and a great deal of waste. They also had some peculiar influences on the nature of the bake house itself. While the bakery’s machinery worked normally during the party season that was often less true of the bakers. They had a tendency to let us down; there were more than the usual number of hangovers or “food poisonings”. Even when people did make it in, they were often very tired. But getting them in at all could be a struggle. I remember driving with my Dad to knock up bakers at their flats, which were often above our shops.  Standing outside at 4 or5amthrowing stones at windows and hammering on doors to get a shift of workers together. I always imagined that it was like working in a press gang for Hornblower’s navy.

The combination of the long closure, uncertainty over the staff and the rapidly accumulating snow made the build-up to this particular Christmas even more intense than usual. My father accentuated the sense of mounting tension by the slowness with which he would sometimes react to impending disaster. In part this extended to his way of preparing for Christmas. He would leave everything to the last moment. From my point of view this meant that the build-up to Christmas day was almost better that the day itself.

[1] The food journal,June 1, 1870, New Bread, p 241 (notebook page 18)