I’d go on to associate 3:00am on a Sunday morning with stumbling home drunk from town: eighty quid down, my trainers scuffed to bits and guided by streams of piss and the stench of Joop to the nearest 24 hour bakery. Before those bleary years, there was a time that I’d be ‘working’ at this god awful hour, before I would notice what laborious road I was hurtling down; and about eleven hours before your mum had the dinner on. I’d go on to work in many restaurants, cafes and bars. But it all began in my dad’s small bakery in Torry at the unsullied age of twelve. This was work experience. An introduction to the working world and a literal awakening by a tinny cheap alarm clock picked up from the cash and carry.
My dad always worked in the industry. A baker by trade and a grafter. Growing up, I have memories of him dotting about the city from A to B, looking to pick something up or sort something out. I would be given the choice of coming in or waiting in the car, as he went down some unspecified stairwell or chap on the back door. I would usually pick the latter as these visits tended to be lengthy, despite the assurance of “just popping in”. As he would talk about, (whatever the hell bakers talked about…) I’d get to try the cakes or be shown how something is done or how a machine works. For example, he worked in a little shop that specialized in wedding cakes. I remember being given a blank cake board and a piping bag with various coloured icing to play with. This was the equivalent of pencils and paper to keep me busy and kept me out of the way. I didn’t mind. I found these experiences fascinating. I fondly remember meeting some local characters and learning how an industrial kitchen functioned.
My dad would go on to buy The Pantry: a small, no thrills bakery that catered mainly for the early morning trade. Initially, he ran the place single-handedly, although help would come in later in the morning to serve the public. I think he found the experience somewhat lonely. In my opinion, the best part of any kitchen job (bar, you know, actually cooking things and completing a successful service) is the social environment created by you and your colleagues. Working side by side with the right team can keep you going throughout a long day. Without that, you may only have the radio for company and the inner workings of a tired brain.
On Saturday night, I’d go to bed fully clothed because…that’s what grown-ups do?…dreading the inevitable 3:00am wake up from my tinny pocket alarm clock; and my dad who would absurdly wake me up a minute or two before it went off. I often ignored his attempts to wake me in hope that I would get away with not going. This had limited success. I’d lumber into the car in pitch darkness and sleep for most of the journey, awakened as we approached the bakery, by the stench of fresh fish and the sound of screeching seagulls.
Opening up was always the worst part: lighting all the stoves, cranking them up full blast to get some heat into the kitchen; waiting for hot water to boil and counting the minutes and seconds until you could take your jacket off. Front of house was basic but practical: brightly coloured price tags peppered the walls and the display cabinets lay dark and bare. Between the hours of three and six, my dad would systematically work through producing pies, cakes, pancakes, etc. I’d be tasked with putting them on display, cleaning and other odd jobs. We’d also get deliveries during this time. I’d find myself making cups of teas and bacon rolls for the tradesman either ending or beginning their shift. You could usually tell which, by the dirtiness of their overalls and the level of weariness in their voice when they ordered.
As the morning went on and darkness fell to light, the bakery would get busier and I would get chirpier, knowing that the arrival of day come with my departure. I’d either get a lift home from my grandfather who would often help out; or from some indistinguishable woman who would do the sandwich run around local offices and drop me off on the way back. Before leaving, I would shuffle up to Blockbuster Video to rent a couple of Mega Drive games – this is how I would spend the rest of my weekend.
These sporadic shifts would indicate who I would become in the working world. My dad would go on to sell The Pantry and I dodged diabetes as a result. His next acquisition would be something far more exciting.
The tinny alarm clock never did ring again. Where as I, was just beginning to chime.