Sonhood begins here

The jobs I preferred in the bakery were ones that I could take all the way through to the finished product rather than just be a part of. Most of the things made in the day were started and finished by different people over a longer period and with more stages in the process. For example the small fancy cakes, one of which had a flake on the top and was covered in chocolate, and the gateaux and fruit tarts, were made by a team of mainly female confectioners led by the massive and forbidding presence of Annie. When Dad lost his business, Annie sent him a card on which she wrote: “As bosses go, you went.”

Anne’s team of daytime confectioners had an odd place in the hierarchy of bake house life. In some eras they even had their own deliveryman. On a couple of occasions I came in to do the packing of these orders. Many of the cakes were designed from a huge book called The International Confectioners. The small fancies were based around a simple design: a rectangle square of sponge with a jam filling. From this base the wide range of different fancies were produced by dipping them in different things, decorating them in different ways and sprinkling the tops of the icing with finishes of different kinds: cherries, vermicelli, chocolate flakes. There were also various kinds of macaroon biscuits. There were Viennese fingers, Lemon Supremes, Jam tarts, chocolate fudge cakes, congress tarts, fruit squares, rum truffles, pineapple delights, Russian slices, Almond glace, Madeline, and Banbury.

The Madelines were actually rather a con. They were nothing like a proper Madeline but rather a Genoese sponge covered in fondant with coconut and a cherry on top. I am not sure Proust would have approved. Indeed it was odd how the names of some of these cakes had been transferred from one thing to another. A Madeline should be much closer to the Viennese finger than to a fudge cake. It is a light sponge and has nothing to do with fondant. However, in the international confectioner these Madeline had become coated in fondant. By whatever process of development these had become our fancies. They were made by women and therefore had an essentially female character for me. They were also made during the day, in a fixed working pattern and in an area of the bakery that always remained relatively clean. The women would also tease me much more than the men, not playing jokes but making remarks that made me blush. I hated working on fancies. The worst thing of all was if the night shift would arrive before I had finished, everyone would know I had been “messing about the girls” that day.

Next to the confectionary girls, and below them were the shop girls.

If he bake house was masculine, then the world of our retail shops was feminine. Mum did much of the running of the shops, hiring and firing, training up the manageress and shop girls. Except for my occasional shifts, only girls worked in the shops. Their atmosphere and cleanliness made them feel closer to home than the bake house. They were more relaxed but not as exciting. Their femininity was challenging for me because I would sometimes be teased or playfully flirted with. But the masculinity of the bake house was much harder to cope with and more exciting to be part of. Looking back now I realise that I grew up in a world of layered machismo that was more Latin American than English and that the odd weekend working in the shops was a welcome rest from this.

Unpacking the fresh goods in the shop and making a good window display could also be great fun especially on a Sunday morning if my Dad had done the baking and the stuff was looking very good. As long as the stuff was cool and the icing dry, you could pile up the morning goods to really fill the window with trays of doughnuts, Danish pastries, scones, almond rings, Chelsea buns and anything else that could be piled high. Or we would make a display of crusty bloomers and French sticks. All the goods that appeared on those Sunday mornings were a good size and had good finishes, so they looked great in the window. There was a certain quality to my father’s goods that made them stand out. The bread had a crusty finish that was the right colour. The doughnuts held their size and were well coated in sugar. The Danish were plump, had good sized pieces of fruits and a decent amount of fondant icing – indeed all the yeast goods looked properly risen, generous and not mass produced. In terms of flavour, Dad used a little more spice and essence than most English bakers, which also meant that his shops had a wonderful smell. It would be lovely to write that all this quality, attractiveness and flavour was achieved because of my Dad’s superior skill. As a boy this is obviously what I believed to be the case.

This belief was connected with the machismo of the bakery. The layers or levels of machismo were defined in hierarchies of jobs based on the level of skill and physical effort involved in each task. In this world youth was a strong protective device, most of the time, from the perpetual ridicule. It is striking that the tone of the bake house was competitive and dismissive by turns. The tone of the shops was much gentler. It was competitive in the sense of macho point scoring rather than sports. In sports the scores are written down and remembered, even memorised. In the bake house the moment was what counted, the pleasure in the moment of triumph and victory. It was a bit like driving in London, another bastion of this macho need to be on top if only for a second. But beneath these verbal games of teasing and knowing, of roles and structures, the deeper machismo was more difficult for a child to cope with.

My Dad was also my Daddy. There was a barrier to be crossed when he stopped being Dad and become the boss. Once he asked me specifically not to call him Daddy at work. Dad was fine, father was fine, even boss was fine but not Daddy. I found it very confusing. I wanted him to be the same person who kissed me goodnight. Later I came to see that he was the same person but that the worlds were different. In part this was the natural process of him becoming a mortal in my eyes. This process was also symbolically carried out in the bake house and one key moment in it concerned how Dad got the quality of finish I so enjoyed unpacking in the shops.