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Black pool bakery

In September of 2009 I got a job at a bakery in Blackpool, north metropolitan Cork City, Ireland. It started badly.

It didn't last. It wasn't good.

The bad start was when Paul first rang me — he wanted to see me right then, in a half an hour. He made it sound like we were going to get right to work, and I didn't like that abruptness. Then he didn't even call me for an hour-and-a-half.

In accordance with food-service tradition, Paul tried to withhold pay at the end of employment, and probably would have succeeded if I'd not been persistent and a bit clever....

... And that was a key theme in my five days of shifts that were strewn across evenings and afternoons unscheduled — a disrespect for anything like the value of somebody else's time....

Another discomforting factor was that this was not a retail bakery. It was a wholesale operation, and in a fluorescent-lighted warehouse unit.

And these guys.... they were friendly enough — but devoted, and presumptuous. The son had worked for four years unpaid. The father, 71, wanted to keep working. Paul worked nearly all the time, and has a family as well. That's great; good for them. But they appeared to assume that I had implicitly signed up for some kind of apprenticeship.

I don't want to serve an apprenticeship. I want to know what I'm supposed to do, and when I'm supposed to be there to do it. I want to know when I'm going to be finished, or what it is I need to finish before I can go. And then I want to go.

And then there was the additive... I don't even know what that stuff is. "Conditioner," they call it. It puffs up the bread, and it's a preservative, too. It makes the dough puffier, too, and strange to handle.

There I was in the company of two generations of trained (not intuitive) bakers, watching with family-business eyes, as I attempted to shape weird soft marshmallowy dough in a factory setting.

It couldn't have lasted. No way.