I inherited the position of the local baker’s delivery boy from my brother. Willie had moved on to greater things; his resignation nothing to do with the incident involving the birthday cake ordered by Mrs Monteith. He had left the cake, secure in its box, at the back door, the tradesman’s entrance. Unfortunately and unluckily for my brother, a local squirrel, also celebrating it’s birthday, opened the box and partially consumed the cake. He then invited the numerous species of excited birds, resident in the Monteith’s extensive, well stocked garden, to his birthday bash. Little remained of the cake.
On my first day in the job, my new boss, Jimmy Muirhead, mentioned this mishap as part of my induction training, an example of something I must on no account do. The induction talk took a considerable time, as Jimmy had a habit of repeating things, in fact almost everything, he uttered. As a younger, inquisitive child, I had asked my dad why Mr Muirhead, who lived across the road from us, had a small square shape, like an access hatch, in his head. He told me that he had heard Mr Muirhead had suffered a serious head injury, the result of a motorcycle accident, being in the days before the wearing of crash helmets was mandatory. As I listen to Jimmy outlining the scope of my duties I imagined the small hatch opening to reveal a tangle of wires that were sparking and short circuiting causing each sentence to be repeated.
Following a demonstration in the art of packing bread, buns and cakes into the cardboard boxes I was led out to the delivery bike which was leaning against the wall. It resembled a section of the Forth Bridge with wheels bolted on. It had no gears and required ferocious pumping of the legs to move it from a standing start.
The customers who ordered deliveries tended to live at the posh end of Bonnyrigg, mainly on a street called Broomieknowe, lined with mansions that on one side overlooked the Esk Valley and Lasswade village. The larger residences were approached by long, crunchy gravel drives. Some, owned by ‘Old Money’, were in a state of fading elegance and disrepair. The properties owned by ‘New Money’ were well maintained and had signs directing deliveries to the Tradesman’s Entrance. As a rule, ‘Old Money’ customers would greet me, on a wet winters day, with sympathy, even a cup of tea, “You look done in, old chap”. ‘New Money’ residents, savouring their recently achieved social position were unmoved by the hardship endured by a mere Bakers Boy. As fate would have it the Broomieknowe was approached by long incline requiring a combination of pedalling while steering with one hand, while holding the pile of cardboard boxes in place with the other. Occasionally, the jarring from a pothole would dislodge a box, spilling the contents, bread and rolls, over the road. I would furtively brush off the grit, and, if a sliced loaf had gone under the front wheel, careful reconstructive surgery was called for.
All sorts of local characters passed the shop. Sergeant Turner, rumoured to mete out justice in dark alleyways, retired Dr Scott, so old that his drain pipe trousers and Beatle boots had come back into fashion. But the most colourful character was The Cisco Kid. One day Jimmy was helping me load the bike, or more likely making sure I didn’t overload it, as Cisco strolled passed. Aged anywhere between twenty five and forty, and one round short of a six gun, Cisco was resplendent in his cowboy outfit; ten gallon hat, waistcoat, chaps, boots and sheriff’s star.
“Och, he’s on another planet, on another planet, that one.” Suggested Jimmy.
More likely in Deadwood City, I thought. Where we could see Dr Somerville sedately approaching in his Rover, Cisco saw a stagecoach and tumbleweed rolling across the High Street.
“He’s the happiest man in Bonnyrigg, the happiest man, son,” mused Jimmy, as he eyed me building a small cardboard ziggurat pyramid at the front of the bike.
Mostly life was quiet in the shop, but from time to time there were moments of excitement. “Snell, snell!” A pause, ‘”Snell, snell!” An excited, loud voice emanated from the front shop. I was in the back room packing bread and cakes into the cardboard boxes with Jimmy’s wife, Mary. Startled by this commotion I resisted the urge to hide under the table. The night before I’d been to the Regal cinema to see Von Ryan’s Express , one of the latest war films, which had a lot of German soldiers running around shouting “ Schnell! Schnell!” in loud, excited voices at everyone else who wasn’t German, who tried to hide under tables.
Jimmy marched into the back room. “Did you hear that, did you hear that, son?”
“Hear what, Mr Muirhead?” I said.
“Old Mrs Kay, old Mrs Kay, said to me, ‘it’s snell this morning, snell!”
I looked up from trying to squash a loaf into a ridiculously tight space in a box and peered at the hatch in his head. Had the wires shorted again?
“Snell, Mr Muirhead?”
“Aye, snell, snell, it’s the auld Scots for cold, for cold, son,” said Jimmy enlightening me, “I’ve no heard that for years, for years!”
Neither had Mrs Muirhead, who paused packing a box and rolled her eyes to look up at the ceiling.
I can’t recall how many years I worked for Jimmy, but when I was about 16, due to leave school I had handed my notice in. This probably save Jimmy the trouble of sacking me following an unfortunate lapse in customer care.
On a wet, cold and blustery morning I had just made the final delivery of the day.
I was about to pump the pedals with my aching legs, create the impetus to move the delivery bike and head back to the shop. “Baker’s boy! Baker’s boy!” A loud piping voice accompanied by crunching gravel. I turned mid-thrust on the pedals, rain mingling with sweat, dripping of the end of my nose, to see a small boy. A pupil of one of the Edinburgh public schools, resplendent in an immaculate school uniform and cap. “I say, Baker’s Boy, Baker’s Boy, mummy would like……….”
Being called a Baker’s Boy by this Little Lord Fauntleroy was just too much to bear.
“Fuck off, sonny!” I muttered, a little too audibly.
Startled, the distressed boy ran back down the long gravel drive, eager to regale mummy with the strange turn of phrase used by the ‘Baker’s Boy’ while the Baker’s Boy pedalled back to face Jimmy.
I must have left on good terms as later, older and wiser, during my Easter holidays from College, I made deliveries in Jimmy’s Ford van which had superseded the bike.