Sonhood begins here
The secretaries occupied the bottom of the bakery’s human social system. Not the cleaners. I am not sure why I placed the cleaners above the office staff. They were just a little bit closer to making things than those concerned with office process I suppose. I had no idea at the time of course that I was mirroring a permanent lament amongst academics. Academics, as a breed, complain as a reflex to the beginning of each working day. They complain most about administration, even if, as is often the case they have long ago given up on research and use administration as a means of avoiding contact with students. They internalised at some point early in their careers that administration was not real work. In my teens I felt this about the divide between the office workers who processed the orders, answered the phones and produced the overall production totals, and everyone else. But why not put cleaners at the bottom of the pile? They did not make anything after all. Looking back I think it was two things. First they were generally characters of some kind. Austin was tall and , to my teenage mind, mmensely stupid. My father was eighteen stone but Arthur was the largest person I had ever seen. He was unfeasibly, unsustainably round – like a huge telly tubby. His belt fascinated me because it seemed to hold his stomach in place. I imagined that when he went home and undid his belt he would immediately topple over as layers and layers of fat escaped. He sweated constantly and was so dirty that I could not imagine what contribution he made to the actual cleaning. But my father employed him for years.
Austin was kept around to be shouted at. He was tall and almost hairless. The two together were like the number 10. Austin who looked and glistened a bit like the Rev Ian Paisley, at least kept himself clean. His trouble was that he would become fixated on a particular spot in the bakery, cleaning a small area of floor over and over again until Dad noticed him. Then he would move to another patch and get stuck in there. They came into their slapstick own when they put away their old brooms and set out to use the high tech cleaning and drying machines for the floor. One of the machines made a soapy wet mess and the other machine dried this up. Now after lunch on Saturday when no shift was starting until the following morning, the Austin and Arthur show could run unimpeded. At any other time the gap between the shifts was relatively small but particular areas of the bakery would become especially greasy. Grease was a real enemy. Many things produced it: the tins being prepared for the ovens, frying the doughnuts but also the making of almost any recipe requiring fat of some kind. Also making almost anything meant that tins had to be opened which might cause things to spill out, and the constant flow of the racks and trolley traffic would then spread the mess across much larger areas. Austin and Arthur therefore had to make a judgement. They had to make a rational choice by ranking their preferences: did they prefer to be shouted at by my father because they had not cleaned up a particularly dirty part of the last shift or because they were still cleaning when the new shift came in. Almost always they were caught between the two and my father would let rip.
Their purpose was to be shouted at. There was a part of my father that understood some elementary things about mental health. It was reflected in the way in which my parents had arguments. Tension would mount remarkably quickly and then there would be an explosion of shouting, repetitive on my father’s part and increasingly angry on my mother’s. To further needle my mother, Dad used repetition. Even when it was obvious that he had lost the argument and actually agreed with my mother he would continue to say the same things. They would occasionally resort to Italian, though as this was not my father’s first language he did not do so as naturally as my mother, except to swear.