Alex was extremely busy on account of the popularity of his bread but I finally managed to make concrete contact with him about four days after my arrival.
“Hi Joy, – If possible, can you come to the bakery for 3:30 a.m. on Thursday morning?” his email said. “We can start from there!”
“I’ll be there!” I replied.
“Hi Joy. In other words, 3:30 a.m. tonight . . . cheers,” a second email from Alex said, minutes later.
Tonight? Crikey! Today was Wednesday, which meant that technically, we would be into Thursday just after midnight tonight, which meant that I didn’t have all of Thursday to galavant before going to the bakery just after midnight on Thursday because then, of course, we’d technically be into Friday morning! (Gentle reader, with the benefit of hindsight and my clear treatise on this matter, you may well be wondering why this would have caused any confusion in the first place. But the human brain is indeed a weird and wonderful piece of engineering. Just consider the following two paragraphs – you may have come across them before – and ask yourself, why does the human brain interpret certain pieces of information in certain ways? For a certainty, dear reader, no one knows; and such is the case with my situation at hand.)
“Hi Alex,” I emailed back. “Thanks for the clarification; otherwise I would have ended up coming on Friday morning!”
“That’s okay,” Alex said. “It has happened before.”
That night, I went to bed early, about 8:00 p.m; and I set my alarm for 2:00 a.m. Lisa was driving me over there, and we stepped out into the mild, moonlit night at about 2:40 a.m. The roads were clear and we breezed our way over to Hay, pulling into the industrial estate some 40 minutes later.
I knocked on the bakery’s metal door and it swung open moments later. Alex stood in the light, one hand held in the air, encased in dough. He looked a bit different from his pictures on the website. Most people look a bit different in real life compared to their pictures. (Gentle reader, have you ever spoken to someone for the first time on the telephone and then when you met them in person they looked totally different from the mental picture that you’d unconsciously built up in your head? We’re pondering the functioning of the brain again, dear reader, and I think you would perhaps agree with me by now that it is a tremendously difficult task to try to pinpoint the intricate threads of cognition that make up that mass of matter that we carry around in our heads.)
Alex didn’t look all that different though, I suppose, because he still sported that partially bald hairstyle that stood out remarkably on his website.
“Hi, Alex,” I said.
“Oh, I’m not Alex,” the man told me, and smiled.
“Oh . . .”
“Oh.” I smiled back, hoping my embarrassment was not evident. “You do look a bit like him though,” I said. “You’ve got the same haircut. . . I’m Joy.”
Liam chuckled and stepped aside. Lisa and I crossed the threshold and surveyed the huge room. It had a high ceiling, such a high ceiling; and it was pleasantly warm.
Stacks of bakery baskets, two fridge-freezers and a series of long, metal shelving units were lined up neatly along one side wall. In the far corner, a neatly arranged desk bookended the lined up array.
Large sacks of flour were stacked on pallets and placed down the length of the room, parallel to the fridge-freezers and the other items along the side wall. Together, they formed a narrow aisle down the length of the room.
Several shiny, long, metal tables were arranged strategically around the room, and the largest table in the middle was a solid oak table. The arrangement created a kind of network of neat aisles, with enough space around each table in which one could quite happily work. Each table was equipped with a shelf underneath, the same size as the tabletop. Other bakery equipment: proofing baskets, scales, huge tubs, basins and measuring jugs were tucked away neatly under the tables.
A large, tall oven stood at the far end of the bakery. It was like several not so tall ovens stacked on top of each other, with levers that no doubt opened each separately. To one side of the oven, a few feet away, in the corner, there was a huge sink, big enough to have a bath in, and with a long draining board. Towards the other side of the oven, and going down the length of another side wall, stood a cluster of large, white flour drums on wheels. And further down that side wall, there was a largish mixing machine humming as it churned through its belly-full of some type of dough.
I worked in a bakery before, many years ago, one summer, when I was a student. I remember it was somewhat of a loathsome place. But this place wasn’t like that at all. It was more like a very big kitchen, not like a factory; and it was pristine.
Just then, a van pulled up outside and a man jumped out. It was Alex, really Alex this time. A second round of greetings and introductions took place; thanks were extended to Lisa again and farewells bidden. Lisa ducked out into the night once more and was soon on her way back to Leominster. I was soon in an apron, observing Alex and Liam heaving huge mounds of dough, prodding and poking them, chopping and weighing, moulding them into individual loaves, sliding the loaves into the oven decks and sliding them out again.
The activity continued all night and by the time daylight started to peep around the edges of the blind that covered the tiny window near the front door of the bakery, the baskets that some four hours earlier had stood empty and criss-crossed together like huge brown bricks, were now stacked tall, like shelves, and filled with all kinds of loaves that made the whole place smell oh so gloriously delicious!
It kind of reminds me of the fairytale, Rumplestiltskin, in the sense that someone gets put into a room full of straw (in this case flour) and has to spin it all into gold by the next morning. What was standing in the aisles of the bakery was certainly like stacks of gold waiting to go out to customers and cafes around the county.
Alex’s Dad, Malcolm, and Gillian, arrived a bit later on to do the deliveries. We loaded up the vans and they set off. We then had to clean down the tables, sweep up the floor – there was flour everywhere – and get everything ready to do it all over again tonight – or for me, tomorrow morning.
And so ends my first night with Alex Gooch Artisan Baker. So far, so good. All fun stuff, I must say. Yawn – I am ready for bed now, and I’m sure to sleep like a log.