I enjoyed writing this book. It flowed out of my memories. All I had to do was shape it.
Chapter 8 – Money – bread, man.
Money. Whatever way you look at it money is a requisite. No money – no gigs. No money – no food. No money no albums.
For Danny life was becoming sorted, but he no longer had that steady income – the dole paid for essentials and living expenses but not much more. It needed supplementing. He needed to buy some time until he had made his mind up about the direction of motion he was heading for. He did not want to jump into something that would not be right. Danny desperately needed to buy some time.
The bread factory was the answer. Every Friday night they took on casual staff in order to cope with the weekend rush. They were mainly students and it was cash in hand. You did a shift right through the night as the ovens churned out their loaves. Those loaves needed sorting and putting on to the Lorries for delivery to the shops and supermarkets. That was Danny’s job. He was part of the crew who worked through the night packing and loading the bread. At first light, at the end of the shift, the tens of Lorries would trundle out of the warehouse and off to the supermarkets and stores with their pallets of fresh bread. Danny would clock out, take his pay home and cook up a meal of his favourite speciality – baked beans with an egg broken into them with bits of crispy bacon – it was easy to do and delicious – just what you needed after twelve hours hard graft through a long night. He’d wolf it down and get his head down for a few hours.
The factory was full on. The work was tedious and there were surprisingly a few techniques to learn. The first night he’d been put on loading up the aluminium pallets that slotted into the Lorries. The loaves of bread came out of the oven, through a slicer and then a wrapping machine and trundled along a conveyor belt. All Danny had to do was to pick them up in batches of five and shove them into lines on the pallet shelves. When the pallet was full he shoved it along and brought up the next in line. The bread came down the conveyor belt in a steady stream. It was a task that looked easy.
Except it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. Danny found that if he squeezed too hard the loaves were all squashed in and the wrappers burst so that there were slices of bread all over the place. If he didn’t press hard enough they slipped out of line, one or two loaves slid lower than the others, and couldn’t be shoved on to the shelf in the pallet. By the end of half an hour he was knee-deep in bread and feeling so flustered that he was all for calling it a day.
That was the moment Henry came across equipped with a huge grin, a deep chuckle and showed him how it was done. Henry was a huge Jamaican with skin so black that is looked blue. He was well over six feet seven with the frame of a heavyweight boxer and hands that could swallow footballs, yet he had the touch of a baby. He scooped up the loaves of bread in fives without denting the loaves or dropping any. Henry stayed with Danny for a full hour, showing him how it was done, until he’d mastered the knack.
From there on Danny was on his own. The bread streamed along at a steady pace and Danny managed to keep up, scooping the loaves into the pallets like a veteran. But his troubles weren’t over. He had a disaster. It was all fine once you got into the rhythms of grabbing, turning, shoving them on a shelf, turning back, grabbing the next five and so on. But it was when his concentration started waning around three in the morning that it went horribly pear-shaped. He’d filled a pallet and pushed it along but one of the wheels had jammed. It wouldn’t budge. He shoved and pulled. Meanwhile the bread was relentlessly moving along the conveyor belt. By the time Danny had moved it along and pulled up the next pallet, the loaves had begun to pile up. He found he could not get his hands in to grab five loaves. They were all squashed up and then began to buckle and wrappers explode. By the time he managed to press the emergency button to stop the conveyor belt – a last resort – he had an avalanche of exploded loaves all around him.
The foreman came over to see what the problem was and was not amused. It was very nearly the end of Danny’s short career in bread shifting. But Henry came over, pacified the foreman, and helped rescue as much of the bread as he could. The damaged was cleared away and the belt started again.
At breaks and the strange early morning dinner/supper break, Danny would sit with Henry and a long-haired student called Mike. Mike had black hair down to his waist that he refused to brush or comb because he believed that brushing caused split-ends and broke off the hair. His ambition was to grow it as long as he could possibly get it. He dreamed of having it long enough to trail along the floor. So he only combed it with his fingers. The bread factory did not mind about long hair. Most of the casual students they employed had long hair. As long as it was all wrapped up in a snood they were happy. Mike was in to Acid Rock in a big way – Beefheart, Doors and Country Joe and the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Love. He and Danny would talk excitedly about the latest albums while Henry listened in and smiled. He was into Bluebeat and Reggae and liked his house parties. According to him Brixton was the place for music. He’d never been to Middle Earth, the Roundhouse or UFO but he’d been to a few Reggae House Parties in his time. He found the two little white boys amusing.
Danny soon settled into the routine at the bakery and things became easy. Easter was the biggest rush. They took on casual labour for a whole week in advance to deal with the output. The factory churned out hot-cross buns in their millions. Danny found himself on quality control. As the hot buns came out of the ovens a group of them picked out the misshapen ones. They were allowed to eat as many of these as they wanted. They all took in a pack of butter and through that first night gorged themselves on fresh buns. On the second night they weren’t so keen. By the third night all the butter had disappeared and nobody could face another bun. By the end of the week everyone went home with a big plastic bag of as many misshapen buns as they could carry. Danny fed the whole house but didn’t eat a single one. He’d been put off them for life.
After a few months in the job Danny progressed to the responsible job of fork-lift truck driver – quite a promotion. His job was to unload the empty pallets and load the full pallets into the Lorries. He enjoyed driving the forklifts, they could swivel round a threepence, and it would later give him a lot to laugh about with Dave. But that was in the future.
Danny became adept at carrying the heavy pallets, gauging the twin prongs and trundling up and down ramps, picking them up and delivering them into the Lorries.
But one night he made a big slip. Somehow he misjudged and spun the forklift round so that the two prongs ripped through the side of one of the Lorries. He extricated the prongs and climbed down from his truck to assess the damage. The irate driver had seen what had happened and rushed across in a fury. He grabbed hold of Danny by the throat and was about to pound his face into something resembling a raw steak when a big hand engulfed his fist.
Henry picked the big lorry driver up by his shirt and held him up in the air at arm’s length. The strength was unimaginable. The driver kicked his legs futilely.
‘Now then, mon,’ Henry said calmly and quietly. ‘Steady yourself down, mon. There’s no need to get agitated. It was an accident, mon. My little friend meant no harm.’
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