An Alphabet Of Things I Like: D

Doughnuts.

(Yes, my American friends. You have been spelling it wrong all this time)

I adore doughnuts. I have to try not to buy any, or I would eat them all without regret or conscience.

I don’t care that they are bad for you. Most things that taste great are.

It doesn’t matter to me where they come from. Specialist shop, local bakery, or supermarket. I love them all.

Whether glazed ring.

Jam-filled.
(Americans call it ‘Jelly’, but it’s not. That’s something different.)

A twisty Yum-Yum.

Or my top-favourite, custard-filled.

To my mind, there is no such thing as a bad doughnut!

Doughnuts

Is there such a thing as a ‘bad’ doughnut? I think not.

My one enduring weakness is this wonderful confection. Whether classic jam-filled, glazed ring, custard-filled, or bear-claw, I could eat some every day. It is a tribute to my self-control that I rarely buy them, and that I am happy to settle for them as an occasional treat.

Yum-Yums, Krispy Kreme, supermarket own brand, or bakers’ delight, I have sampled them all. End of the pier at the beach, five for a pound, chocolate covered, or filled, they are all simply delicious. Nothing compares to the squirt of filling that escapes, as you bite into the ‘wrong’ end. Any flavour will do. Vanilla cream for choice, strawberry, raspberry, or chocolate, white or dark, I just don’t care. Sugar topped, covered in sprinkles, crispy with glazed sugar. I’m your man, whatever the option.

People are fond of talking about ‘guilty secrets’ these days. If I had one, and it isn’t a secret, it would be the divine doughnut. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every one that I have ever eaten.

So there!

Selling Yourself: Part Four

The reason the interview for my next job was on a Saturday, was because the staff started far too early, to allow for a weekday interview process. After less than seven days, technically unemployed, but paid until the end of the month, I was taken on by this new company, following the most basic meet and greet, and a quick driving assessment. They were so short of staff, even the top managers were out doing rounds, so as long as I could read, write, and drive, I was certain to be employed.

I was back on van sales once again, this time for a bread company in the Medway area, Betabake. Knowing that they had little hope of competing with the brand leaders, like Wonderloaf, and Sunblest, they concentrated instead on the neglected ‘personal retail’ market. This was a posh term for door-to-door selling and delivering, something like a milkman, but with bread and cakes. I was given a company overall, a cash bag, lists of prices and products, and a card index, containing the details of the hundreds of calls I would have to make. I didn’t get to keep the van outside of work, and I had to be in by 4am daily, to get my quota of freshly-baked goods from the factory. If I did well, and avoided traffic, they told me that I should be finished by 2pm. That still seemed like a hell of a long day to me. I also had to go out on Saturdays,  primarily to collect the money owed, as well as shifting anything that I had left. This was far from being a job I would normally have chosen. A large element of the salary was tied up in commission, or performance pay, and with the very few exceptions of some small local shops, all the customers paid in cash, a week behind. This involved banking, which always took a chunk out of your day, as it had to be done before 3.30pm. It also meant that you had to carry a reasonable cash float, and lots of change. I had two days with a trainer, showing me the ropes on his own round. Of course, he had it sorted, and it ran like clockwork, so didn’t seem too bad.

I started the following week, responsible for some notorious estates in the area around Strood, in Kent. Chatting to guys at the depot, it seemed that this round was a veritable salesman’s graveyard, and had seen at least four others off, in the last year alone. Having got up at 3am to be at work before 4, I was tired by the time I had loaded and checked my van, and I still had all day to do. The first few days were chaotic. People cancelled their orders, or increased them; some told me not to call again, and others approached me, asking me to add them to my rounds. Schoolkids stole stuff from the van as soon as my back was turned, and I had to resort to the tedious procedure of locking it all the time. Existing customers constantly argued that I was arriving too late, and their breakfast was already over. I couldn’t interest anybody in the special offers, or promotional goods, as I rarely got to actually speak to anyone, unless they waited in to complain. I was constantly running late, and was always the last one back to the depot, to the annoyance of the manager.

Back at home, still sharing with my friends, it was impossible to go to bed early enough, to get sufficient sleep before leaving again. So, I treated it like night work; stayed up as long as possible, then slept during the late afternoon, before the others got home. This meant that I was always flat out on the sofa all evening, half asleep, and getting irritated. They were getting pretty fed up with it, and so was I. On the plus side, I provided us with unlimited bread and cakes of course, so we were never short of stodge. I began to see another side of human nature too. Many customers constantly avoided me when it was time to pay. If caught in when I called, they would offer all sorts of lame excuses for being unable to pay, or send small children to the door, to tell me that ‘mum was ill’, or ‘mum had gone to the shops’. I had only one sanction available, to issue a note demanding payment, with a threat to stop delivering, if they failed to pay. This had to be agreed by the debt recovery department, as it rarely involved enough money to make it worthwhile taking proceedings to recover the amounts owing. I would normally be instructed to continue supplies, with the increasing debt ‘charged’ against my account, as a debit balance. These debit balances affected my commission, and any bonuses due during promotions. If the company could not get the money from the defaulting customer, they took it off me instead.

Wandering these estates with my outdated baker’s basket, the laughing stock of serial fraudsters, was hardly a satisfying employment experience. One day, I arrived at the door of a customer who owed a month’s bill, to find a note in the window of her front room. ‘Cannot open the door, as chickenpox in the house. Two extra white sliced please’, It read. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and did not leave anything, save a note telling her that she owed almost £20. She complained to the depot, and I was forced to drive all the way back, to leave the bread outside her house. The extra debit was charged against my account, and I got off work really late. The funny thing about all this, was that I was actually sympathetic to the plight of most of my customers. I was aware of the situation of single parents, struggling to make ends meet, buying my unhealthy food to feed their family. Old people at home alone, would enlist my help in collecting prescriptions from a local chemist. I once gave a lift to the station, to a customer who could not start her car one morning. I even purchased vegetables from a mobile shop, on behalf of a disabled client, who was unable to go to the meeting point to use this shop. I wanted to do some good, as well as selling them buns, rolls, and bakewell tarts. I saw myself as part of a community, something that was already dying out, even then.

Regrettably, the majority of my customers saw me as little more than a mug, to be exploited, along with the local milkmen, window cleaners, and other door-to-door services. They knew just how far to push things, and minutes before being refused service for good, would offer to pay £5 off their bill; just enough to allow them to continue to receive supplies. They could be downright nasty, and on one occasion, a woman who appeared at the door in her nightdress, told me that she would say that I had sexually molested her, if I refused to leave extra bread. I had dogs set on me, and angry boyfriends or husbands would be sent out to argue with me, offering violence in lieu of payment. It may be fair to assume that this was a minority of customers who dealt with me in this fashion; sadly it was by far the majority.  Years later, when I heard pundits lamenting the demise of this type of personal delivery service, I would always remark that they only knew half the story.  I was getting really fed up with all of this, as well as the incredibly early start times, and always feeling tired. I resolved to have a showdown meeting with the depot manager, and tell him how upset I was.

It was immediately obvious that I wasn’t telling him something that he did not already know. Previous operators on this round had come to him with all sorts of horror stories, and there were even tales of sexual favours being exchanged for trays of ring doughnuts. The debit balance had always been bad, I discovered, and had been written off three times in two years, as too difficult to collect, and not worth the trouble. Yet they persisted in this loss-making delivery method. I never received a really satisfactory answer as to why they continued to do this, just some vague stuff about getting the brand recognised, and being the market leader in home delivery of bread and cakes. He could see that I was stressed by it all, and offered me a change of scene, for a while at least. They would pass the round to a supervisor, who would attempt to use his experience to get the debts down, and to weed out the worst customers. In the meantime, I would be allowed to drive the larger trucks, that delivered bulk loads of bread and cakes, to both wholesale customers, and other Betabake depots. As there was no restriction on driving a lorry at that time, it would not be a problem. I would have to start even earlier though, but would receive a slight pay increase. to reflect the unsocial hours involved.

The next night, I arrived at the larger depot, attached to the factory further down in Kent. I first had to load the very large lorry with huge cages full of of sliced bread, as well as wooden trays of unwrapped cakes and buns, slotted into special racks. I then received a list of deliveries, with each tray coded for the customer, or receiving depot. In the early hours, with little or no traffic, this was a much easier job, and the nature of the bulk deliveries, with no cash and minimal paperwork involved, seemed like a holiday to me. Being based at the factory, it was simple to help yourself to any amount of ‘free’ bread and cakes that you wanted, as stock control was non-existent at the point of manufacture. Getting up early, then working quite hard, made you feel very hungry, and it was not unknown for each of us to polish off a six-pack of fresh jam doughnuts, before leaving to do our deliveries. Once again, I was working somewhere that was enabling me to eat free of charge, albeit very unhealthily.

Just as I was settling into this nocturnal routine, and becoming one of the ‘wholesale gang’, I was approached by management, who told me that I had to return to the retail depot in Dartford. They were adamant that my round in Strood had been sorted out, and I was assured by the supervisor, that he had everything under control. I wasn’t happy, but they had told me that my move was only short-term, so I couldn’t do much about it. I was so desperate to stay where I was, that I even offered to do the unpopular job of shuttle driver, which involved driving around, collecting empty cages and racks, from the different wholesalers. This was an early start, late finish job, for basic pay, with no extras. I would sooner have dropped down to this, than gone back to my bleak housing estates. But I had been employed as a salesman, and they insisted that I go back to my previous role.

I had a bad feeling that they were not telling me the whole truth, and this proved to be the case. Back on the round, I soon discovered that most of the debts had simply been written off, with little or no effort to collect any of the money. All the worst customers were still there, and I had even lost a lot of the better ones. More annoying though, was the fact that the company had increased my commission ceiling, based on the fact that they had ‘cleared’ the debit balance. Once again, they were essentially getting the salesman to pay for the fraudulent behaviour of the customers. I was back to the same old grind, with less chance of earning any extras above the basic pay, and the same old defaulting customers, ready to increase their debts once again. I knew it couldn’t last, but I had to find something else first.

When it did come, it gave me the chance to get out of the bread game, and into something a great deal more civilised, and interesting. I have already covered it at some length here; https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/the-rizla-experience/ .  After that, I began to work as a taxi driver, also dealt with in a long post here; https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/did-someone-call-a-cab/

Part five of this story starts after those episodes in my employment journey ended.

Eating the Sixties

As strange as it may seem now, there was a time before KFC, Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, Domino Pizza, and Doner Kebabs. All of these fast food outlets were completely unknown to me as a youngster in London, during the 1960’s. They did not exist anywhere in Britain, but that is not to say that we did not enjoy fast food, far from it. Eating on the go was as much a part of my youth, as it is for people today. There were even burgers, but not the chains so familiar now.

So, what did we like to eat then? There was fish and chips of course. Although some fish and chip shops had tables, I cannot remember ever eating them inside. They were either wrapped up, to take home to eat, or ‘left open’, for immediate consumption. In those days, old newspapers were still used as wrappers, and we rarely bought the fried fish to eat when walking, as it was too messy. The choice would usually be a portion of chips, accompanied by a pie, fried fish roe, or a saveloy. A saveloy is reminiscent of a sausage, but very different. Much spicier, finer ground, and containing ‘meat’ of unknown provenance, all secured in a bright-red, artificial skin. It sounds awful when you read it like that, but tasted great. I might also get a pickled onion; these were huge things, kept in jars on the counter, normally alongside pickled eggs. The whole thing would then be doused in a covering of vinegar, then showered with salt. If you were lucky, the owner might add some ‘crispy bits’, the scooped-out pieces of fried flour that fell off of the fish. It was a decidedly unhealthy meal, but always tasted delicious.

In London, we also had the once-famous pie and mash shops. The leading suppliers were Manzi’s, and Arment’s, who had both been selling pie and mash, together with eels, cooked or jellied, since Victorian times. Their restaurants had rows of marble-topped tables, always busy, and full of diners. In the windows, large tanks of live eels swam around, intertwined, and unaware of their fate. Everything was made on the premises, and the pies were of a type unique to those sort of establishments. They had a well-baked top, and a softer underside, almost like a pudding. The strange colour of the contents was best left undiscovered, and to this day, I have no idea what ‘meat’ was inside them. The mashed potato was firm, and delivered in scoops. The chosen dish would then be covered in a watery fluid, known as ‘liquor’. This was bright green, and not to my taste. When ordering, I would have to quickly add, ‘no liquor please’. Most people thought that I was crazy to forgo this delicacy, which I later discovered was a concoction of parsley, vinegar, water, and I firmly believe, green dye. The older people would eat eels, usually served cold, with a white aspic jelly, in pots. They would normally have bread with this, and added the disgusting habit of spitting out the central segment bones of the eels as they ate. A few would opt for a bowl of hot, stewed eels, but I always had pie and mash. This was a meal that you could take away, to eat at home, but not one to be eaten in the street. The exception to this was the jellied eels. They would also be sold from stalls, in markets, or outside pubs, and would normally be eaten nearby, as the bowls would be returned. As far as I know, most of these pie and mash shops are now closed, driven out of business by the American fast-food chains, and a victim of changing tastes. A great shame, if you ask me.

There were no home delivery options then, but you could get a Chinese meal, as long as you lived near Chinatown, or the Limehouse district of East London, both areas popular with the Chinese community. I had my first Chinese meal at a young age, in a small restaurant in Limehouse. It was more like a cafe, without the fancy decor and ornamentation so familiar today. The menu was not extensive, and designed for Western tastes, as well as our limited knowledge of what constituted Chinese food. This was generally Chow Mein, Chop Suey, or Sweet and Sour Pork. Nonetheless, I thought it very exotic, and tasty as well. When I was a bit older, Indian Restaurants also appeared, though I did not have my first Indian meal until my late teens.

Then there was the Wimpy Bar. Named after the character in the Popeye cartoons, Wimpy Bars first appeared in London, as early as 1954; they soon spread to every district, and later, all over the UK. This was a whole new experience for us. The coffee, served in glass cups, was frothy, and tasted really good. You could also buy milk shakes, and Coca-Cola of course. And for food, you could choose from a varied menu of burgers, frankfurters, and grills. There were photographs on the menus, so you could see what your meal would look like when it arrived. We may think this incredibly naff nowadays, but then it was actually exciting! The chips were called French Fries, and were very different to the thick, soggy chips we could get in fish and chip shops. They were slim and crispy, and soon became a favourite with me. As well as the novelty of the inexpensive food, these provided a social meeting point for young people, for the price of a coffee. It was rare to take anything away from a Wimpy Bar. The whole point was to dress smart, meet your friends, and ‘hang out’, occasionally buying an extra drink, to avoid being asked to leave. The local Wimpy Bars were heaven to me, with one a short walk from home, and another close to East Street Market, where we always went at weekends. I spent many happy hours sitting in them, sipping coffee, eating a ‘Wimpy Grill’, and feeling very grown up. It was a totally different experience to eating in a Burger King, or McDonald’s, and I still lament their passing today.

I must not forget the smaller snacks that we regularly bought, usually during school meal breaks, or on the way home from school. The local bakers was part of a small chain, and called ‘Edwards’. They sold small, greasy doughnuts at a penny (old money,1d) each. They were sweet and crunchy, incredibly cheap, and gave a good energy burst. Edwards also sold Bread Pudding; this was a spicy, thick cake, full of currants and sultanas, and as the name suggests, made from bread. My Mum also made this, but at only 3d a slice, it was great value from the bakers, for a filling snack. I know that they also sold hot sausage rolls, and Cornish Pasties, but I never bought them as I rarely had enough money left.

I am sure that other regions of the UK must have had regional snacks, that inspire the same nostalgic memories. I have certainly tried Scotch Pies in Scotland, a delicious minced beef pie, encased in a short pastry. In the North of England, I have been appalled to find a huge slop of bright green, processed mushy peas dolloped onto my pie and chips, without being asked. There must be many others. If you remember them, please let me know in the comments. Of course, I later tried Pizza, all the major burger chain products, and KFC. I have eaten my share of Doner kebabs, and sampled foods from all over the world, but the memories of saveloy and chips and pie and mash remain, and I can still taste them, to this day.

My guilty pleasures

Most of us have some of these, I have many, so this is just a selection.

Doughnuts. I almost never eat chocolate, and certainly do not crave it. I can take or leave crisps, most cakes, and fast foods, as in Fish and Chips, Kebabs, and Takeaways of all kinds. My sweet desire, is a doughnut; and hopefully, more than one at a sitting. To my mind, there is no ‘bad’ doughnut, just different degrees of deliciousness. Whether a humble jam or custard, as in five for a pound at the supermarket, the seductive Marks and Spencer ‘Yum Yum’ (so good, they named it twice), or a bespoke Italian Custard Doughnut, from Patisserie Valerie in Soho; so huge, it fills a plate, and has to be eaten with a knife and fork, the King, or perhaps Queen, of the deep fried, cream-filled confection: I love them all. Naturally, I am aware that they are not good for you. The arrival of Krispy Kreme, from the USA, with their family-sized boxes of goodness, could potentially have shortened my life. And their simple glazed ring, so tasty and moreish, could have replaced anything else, as my staple diet. So, I have to be strong, and not buy any. I just revel in the memory, and occasionally, very occasionally, allow myself one (or two) as a wicked treat.

Cajun Music. I have a very varied taste in music, and a large collection of records, as well as a vast number of recordings on CD. Many are even still in their wrappers, so unplayed, such is my fervour for collecting. I have Vintage Jazz, Motown, Ska, Drum and Base, Northern Soul, everything by Van Morrison, Steely Dan, and Madonna. I am also a great fan of more modern music, and own all the recordings of Amy Winehouse, Adele, and many others. I even have some Classical Music, and a few Operas. But for some reason, I also have two CD’s featuring Cajun Music. This strange, nasal caterwauling from the deep South of America, struck a chord (literally) somewhere in the musical part of my brain. The unintelligible, half French, half Creole ramblings, that pass as lyrics cannot be the reason. I don’t usually have any time for accordions, and the insular, swamp-dwelling life of the Cajun people holds no attraction for me. So, why this music? I have no answer. I just know that whenever I hear it, my foot will begin to tap, and I will start to think in French. Very soon , I am feeling the humidity of the bayou, and developing a craving for a bowl of spicy crayfish. Perhaps I was a Cajun in a former life, who knows?

Hachi – A Dog’s tale. Not only do I consider myself to be a film buff, I could justifiably be called a film bore. I can pontificate about Films and Cinema, until the listener has given up the will to live. I even have a category in this blog about the subject. I take the stand that all the best films ever made, will be in a language other than English, have subtitles, and probably be filmed in black and white. Yet, I have a secret. I love this film. It is about a dog, and loyalty, and it is very sad; think ‘Greyfriars Bobby’, but  originally set in Japan. I am a complete sucker for both the Akita pup, and the grown up dogs that all play Hachi. The fine American cast all play second fiddle to this tale of a dog, his love for his owner, and the love of the family in return. This is a two-hankie weepie,  a manipulative tear-jerker, firmly aimed at the family market; everything I normally hate. But I love it.

Rolling News. For choice, I will watch BBC News 24, though when it changes to a ‘feature item’, I will rapidly switch to Sky News. Since this format arrived in the UK, with cable and satellite TV, eventually transferring to specialist channels on mainstream TV, I have been hooked. It is the background to my daily life, always on, sound low, flickering in the background, just in case something happens. I don’t care that the same news is reported every fifteen minutes, and that the presenters look pushed to try to say something fresh about the same thing that they have been talking about for four hours; it is twenty-first century, instant access communication. I like the red information bar, with its breaking news, and currency rates, and I know all the names of the newsreaders, even the weather forecasters. And don’t try to tell me that nothing ever happens. One day, about 1.45pm, I had Sky News on, and something really big happened. It was September 11th,  2001. OK, it was a long time ago, but it was pretty massive, and the best ever example of the power of rolling news.

Nigella Lawson. I don’t really like cookery programmes, or the celebrity status bestowed on chefs, and cake bakers. However, there is one programme that I have on ‘series record’, and it definitely is not because of the food. Daughter of the hated Conservative Chancellor, Nigel Lawson (yes, that is how she got the strange name), the wealthy parliamentarian who served in the Thatcher Cabinet, possibly the most reviled gang in British Political History, she is also currently married to a millionaire advertising executive, Charles Saatchi. So, not a pedigree that normally appeals to someone like me, class-conscious, and from a Trade Union background. But have you seen her? Even at the age of 53, she has to be one of the most seductively attractive women on Earth. If an extra terrestrial ever landed, and asked me to describe the female of our species, I would show him her picture. She has a knowing smile, a wicked glance, and a sense of her own sexuality; and she can cook! She is all-woman, in the best way imaginable, and easy to discard principles for, in a heartbeat. (For foreign readers, I appreciate you will not know her. Google Images has some nice photos.)

There are some of my embarrassing pleasures, and I plead guilty to them all. I may let you know about some others one day. Then again, maybe not.