At the end of our street was Kerrford’s Bakery and the scent of bread baking always takes me back to growing up in the East End. Mr Kerrford rose at 3am every day to make the loaves and rolls and Mrs Kerrford opened the shop at 8am to sell them. If she had errands that couldn’t wait, sometimes she would ask Ma to mind the shop for an hour. My brother and me would follow her and wait outside, breathing in the soft air whenever customers came and went. Sometimes we would follow them in but Ma would shoo us outside again and give our legs a slap.
When she got back, Mrs Kerrford would usually give Ma something from the shelves, a batch or a dusty bloomer, for helping her out. If we were lucky she would give us a crusty end to share, but in return she’d ruffle my brother’s darling curls and pinch my chubby cheeks. Neither of us laughed at the other, bound together in silence by embarrassment. But those days we always knew tea would be special. Mr Kerrford’s bread was the best in London they said.
The first day we would have it warm, sliced thickly and spread with a little butter. The next day it would be sliced more thinly for jam sandwiches. The third day it was best toasted. Quite often Mrs Kerrford wanted Ma to watch the shop again by then. If she didn’t, it would be day-old, unsold loaf for us, because that was only a penny and fresh bread was two pennies. We ate toast quite often, growing up.
When I turned 12, Mr Kerrford let me help with deliveries before school. He would pack the basket on his bike with orders for the local hotel, fitting them in like jigsaw pieces, before covering it with a clean towel, tucked in. Morning goods, he told me they were. Rolls for breakfast for the guests, so they had to be at the hotel by 6am every day, he said. The order was for 3 baker’s dozens, but Mr Kerrford said 40 was easier to pack and that I could have the extra one for breakfast, but not until I was riding back. The ride back, munching on a warm, crusty roll that I didn’t have to share with anybody, was the happiest part of my day.
I did my National Service and signed on for 3 extra years. When I was demobbed, I came home to find Mr Kerrford was too ill to work and Mrs Kerrford had closed the shop to look after him. They had a son, Jimmy, but he wanted to mend cars not bake bread. A job with a future, he said. It’s not that I wanted to do deliveries anymore, but when I wake at 5am I still think I can smell the bread.