The width of the big jag was ideal for my Dad. He was strikingly large. 18 stone. This was something to do with the flour, a chemical reaction or illness my mother said. I have never understood what it was. I suspect it was how and what he ate: too much and too quickly. He loved food and enjoyed eating in restaurants. After a big dinner at somewhere like the restaurant of the five star Palace Court Hotel onWestover Roadin the centre ofBournemouth, he would lean back, light a cigar and say something like: “That meal cost as much as one of my minions earns in a week”. But he would have eaten his filet in a few big mouthfuls as if it was a bacon sandwich. He was more at home with a bacon sandwich and a mug of instant coffee. Indeed this was the norm. He spent his whole day making things for people to eat but he consumed food merely for fuel. He never dieted and he never activity. Work itself entailed a considerable amount of unfocussed physical exercise. Loading an oven with nine 2lb loaves on trays, with the intense heat making him sweat and the weight making him pant, was quite a workout. He was often on his feet all day going around the bakery, constantly moving, shifting boxes, shouting orders and stirring large mixes. He was always on the way to or coming back from the bakery or a meeting with a customer. Except for Saturday evenings. This was a night on which he refused to work.
Once home we would eat our evening meal together either at the table or on trays in front of the television. Talk would revolve around the bakery, the comings and goings of staff, new lines that we might sell, things that happened that day and often end with a heated discussion on some aspect of the business. This would usually be about personnel issues. Why my Dad employed this person or that person. Then he would settle down to watch a film and usually be asleep in his armchair within a few minutes. Stubbornly refusing to go to bed until what he took to be a suitably late hour.
His uniform of whites – white trousers, tops and aprons – combined to make him look like a classic jolly baker. When remembered for heath and safety reasons he also wore a white hat. I usually saw him in whites and I always think of him wearing them. Whites always meant bakeries to me, whereas to most children they meant hospitals. They were like his second skin and it was disconcerting to see him out of them or in something outlandish like swimming trunks, shorts or even a tux for one of his National Association of Master Bakers Dinners.
I sat in the Jag as Dad scraped the snow off the windscreen. I was waiting for him again. The night was spent waiting for him to wake me up. I was often left somewhere to wait for him. In the office after work I would wait for him to take me home. In the evening after school I would wait and wonder if he would get home before I had to go to bed. When waiting for him it is not clear to me now if I heard him before I smelled him or the other way around. He had one of three smells and they were so striking that I can almost taste them now. There was bake house and sweat. There was clean with aftershave. There was cigar. Bake house and sweat tended to linger under the other two. Flour and yeast create a very special kind of dank aroma that made up this base smell. Sometimes he would let me watch him shave after his bath. I could not smell the sweat part anymore. Aftershave and washing had dealt with that. But I could still detect the bake house. It always lingered. I have his recipe cards for the major mixes we used in the bakery and they have this smell still.
His recipe cards allow me to conjure his smell sitting in this room. But I cannot hear his voice; at least not the sound. What I remember is the directness, the volume and the economy in forming the phrases to be used followed by the seemingly endless repetition once the right one had been found. His language was not exact but once he settled on a phrase it became a mantra. It was as though by merely repeating them often enough he could win any point – his voice was like his handwriting, always in capital letters.
Now he was driving his Jaguar, registration number COY 99H. Cold, tiredness, and anticipation mingled within me as I huddled inside my blue Parka, with the fake fur trim, waiting for the heating system to kick in. We had barely spoken a word since he woke me. He cleared his throat into a handkerchief and picked his nose clean. My father suffered from catarrh, especially on a morning like this one. I picked my nose too and coughed. “I know I pick it, but you shouldn’t eat it”. This was the first piece of advice I remember him giving me. It was an oddly intimate moment between us. My father was interested in us but he did not have a language with which to talk to us. He was not frightened of touching or being touched. He hugged and kissed his children. He kissed my mother. We always felt loved and protected, just not spoken to, at least not at home.
He knew he had problems with us. These stemmed from the way in which his parents had been with him. I think he thought that his way of being with us was in marked contrast to his own father’s way of relating to him. But both of them were essentially egocentric in their outlook and therefore the tiny differences my Dad achieved in his approach to his children might have appeared to him as major departures but did not help us much. He took me to work with him because he wanted to spend time with me. This was the only way he knew how. We never got close to discussing this. I am sure he would not have accepted it if we had talked about it. But he also felt bad about it and regretted that there was not a greater difference between him and my grandfather.