The Bread Van

The Bread Van, Birmingham, 1950s Acknowledgment to Alan Nicholls

The Bread Van, Birmingham, 1950s
Acknowledgment to Alan Nicholls

The Bread Van

Give us this day … Only it was every other day with the bread man. Milk everyday, yes, but a loaf would outlast a pint.

Mind you, there’s wasn’t a lot of choice: the bread was mostly white, but in different shapes: bloomers, farmhouse with that dip in the middle where the baker had allegedly pressed his elbow, cobs, sandwich tins – the odd one out being Hovis. Wholemeal? No. But they all smelt wonderful once the doors at the back of the van were opened, that yeasty smell that created instant hunger.

Then the stick came into play. The breadman used the stick to retrieve the loaves from the lines of shelves running the length of the van. It was a well-worn wooden batten, its corners knocked off from frequent use, and it had a two-inch nail through the end. This spike, the protruding nail, was used to stab a loaf and hoick it forward. So everyone got a punctured loaf, but they didn’t complain. It was simple solution which speeded up the delivery. We thought “How neat” and nothing more.

The loaves were wrapped in a small sheet of tissue-like paper, rather as the French still do today, and handed over. As our loaf was not sealed, this meant we could give in to temptation and start nibbling the crust on the journey back to the house.

“Don’t pick at it!” my mother used to say, but I think she was tempted herself, because sometimes she asked for a loaf more crusty than the humble standard square loaf used for our sandwiches. Then we all dug in, picking and tearing off ragged pieces, so that soon there was not enough left for the next day.

But it was that nail that stayed with me.

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