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Published by lizzie kean
From the bundle of short stories The Neighbourhood by Lizzie Kean
From the bundle of short stories The Neighbourhood by Lizzie Kean

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Published by: lizzie kean on Mar 29, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Bread Lizzie Kean
There’s always a long queue at the baker’s shop on Saturday mornings. With their legs hangingoutside, as the Dutch would say. Although the Dutch don’t actually queue as such.
Not like what the British do anyway.
The system in the Netherlands is to all stand anywhere, and eye each otherup and down, thus making clear to yourselves and the rest of the people waiting that you’re wellaware of your place in the running order. Sometimes there’s a summing-up, out loud: that lady’snext, then this gentleman, and then me, and you’re after me. Personally, I like the “who was thelast person before me?” approach as you enter the shop. It displays a dignified humility withoutbecoming defeatist.It’s very much a neighbourhood bakery, although I do have a friend whose mother has her come allthe way across town to get bread and pastries from this particular bakery. It’s a bakery of the kindthe Dutch call warm: a warm baker, meaning they bake on the premises, as opposed to what onemust assume would be called a cold baker, where they bake in a factory, wrap everything in threelayers of plastic, load it into an articulated lorry and drive it around for a while before laying it out onsupermarket shelves. These days you also have fake warm, which is half-baked when it leaves thefactory, and baked-off in the supermarket, providing the scent of the warm baker without thesubstance.What’s noticeable about this bakery on Saturdays, apart from the length of the queue, is the factthat almost everyone in the queue is male. Of all ages. There’s the young dad with daughter(Twenty months, and beginning to talk, he tells the baker’s wife proudly) high up in his arms whilehe orders the week’s bread. Including a spelt loaf. Yes, this bakery may be old-fashioned in quality,but it’s modern enough in its thinking to bake bread for the wheat intolerant. I wonder briefly if it’sthe twenty-month old daughter that’s allergic. Probably. It does seem to be something whichaffects new generations.The baker’s wife will know. It’s that kind of bakery. She and the baker live above the shop, and sheknows all the regular customers, most by name. This means that you sometimes have to waitlonger while she extracts a cut-by-stitch account of someone’s recent surgery, or detaileddescriptions of the visitors who are the reason for the trip to the bakery: who likes which cake andwhy. I’ve lived here now for thirteen years, and the baker’s wife’s hair has been in exactly the samestyle all those years. The colour doesn’t change; a skilfully created blonde-on-grey, not too garish.And the coupe is so constant, that it actually seems as though her hair doesn’t grow. She gets thatfrom the Dutch queen of course. Beatrix has epitomised the phenomenon of the constant coupesince she was crowned. Her hairstyle is a source of jokes and reluctant respect at the same time.The sheer disregard for all the advice from all the stylists to whom she has access is, ultimately,impressive. The baker’s wife is trim, a little too sun-browned, and well turned out. Always.There’s the working man who parks his car half-way on the pavement in front of the shop, to makeit clear that he’s only here to get the bread, and get out as quickly as possible. A forlorn hope atthis bakery. He finds himself next in line to an aquaintance, an older man who takes advantage ofthe captive audience situation to bring him up to date vis a vis the latest developments in hishealth. It’s exciting stuff. Even the working man becomes enthralled. The slight pain in the chest,the passing out, the coming to in the intensive care, with only a vague memory of the ambulanceride with screaming sirens, the aneurism removed, back home, and now in the queue at thebakery. All in the space of four days. Incredible. The working man gets his bread, wishes theacquaintance well, and escapes to his car, glad to be gone, glad to be in his thirties, glad to beaneurism-free (as far as he knows).When the aneurism man leaves the shop with his bread, there’s a tangible change in theatmosphere. As if, although you know an aneurism isn’t infectious, but still …. The young salesmanfrom the bed shop, in his striped shirt, and too much aftershave, shakes the ideas of old age and illhealth with a shrug from his shoulders, and orders a couple of festive strawberry tarts above theoriginal intended order, by way of celebration.

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