My Bread Roulette Trilogy
I’ve been sifting, pulping, and editing my writing in the hope of better things and I’ve collected together my Bread Roulette trilogy.
I started feeling the breath down the back of my collar when I walked into Costa and the Barista told me she reckoned that I must live near her as she thought she’d seen me “wandering about” out of her window. Immediately defensive I told her that it was very unlikely as I didn’t do much “wandering”.
It turned out that she was right though as she lives on my route to Morrisons Supermarket just down the road and, feeling my hermit status coming under threat, I panicked and hurriedly changed the subject by informing her that I do trundle along there some evenings to play Bread Roulette. After hearing that I think she was probably left more worried than I was as, after all, I now knew where she lived too.
Bread Roulette is a gentlemanly modern sport which requires skill, dedication, and timing. To give it its full title it’s Morrisons’ Late-Night In-House Bakery Bread-Reduction Roulette and if you pop along to your local branch after 7 pm then perhaps you’ll find the brief window where two quarters of wheat and rye Oktoberfest Boule are reduced to pennies at the end of the day; or some nights walk away with an Artisan Baguette, or maybe win a Snowman sculpted from dough. Every one a winner.
My friend Emma in Glasgow told me that she once found and picked up the fabled mammoth Turtle bread, after 8 pm, and for only nine pence. Since her high-scoring report I’ve found the Turtle myself and I held it aloft and looked it in it’s one good eye, which may or may not have been a burnt currant, and it just looked so sad that I knew then and there that I could never eat it. Emma reported, like some sort of gloating serial killer, that she and her husband pulled its turtle limbs off first.
On my next trip to Morrisons I managed to pick up a Stonebaked Baguette going for a song whilst I was in there trying to find some flowers for my Mum’s birthday. The last time I’d bought her flowers involved a visit to the new local florist-cum-sandwich shop called Lilies & Lattes and the two girls in there ripped me right off as they had prices on nothing, knew what they were going to make up for me before I’d even got out of bed that morning, and they just asked me to name a financial figure when I stepped through the door of what I expected to pay for what turned out to be, with no apparent exotic flowers, a general bundle which I imagine that they made up for all the men who had the misfortune to fall into their clutches.
I escaped, twenty pounds the lighter, cursing both them and their business promising never to return. I’m not saying I created and burned voodoo dolls, made with strands of their hair I just happened to collect on my coat, but between me and this shop which these two girls poured their life savings into, so that they could live their dream, only one of us was still standing shortly afterwards.
In a previous experience, with a more adventurous florist in Manchester, I’d discovered that rush-hour commuting, being stood stock-still squeezed onto a tram, isn’t necessarily conducive when you’re transporting large bouquets of artistically arranged flowers. I imagined that to the sweaty, world-weary, workforce that I might have appeared all Oscar Wilde for the day as there still seemed something embarrassing to me about men carrying flowers outside of adverts for feminine body sprays; even though no-one passed comment or looked at me askance. I had asked the flower-girl where she got her peacock feathers from: a sensible question, I’d thought, but the answer was from the wholesaler; the peacock wholesaler. I didn’t like to enquire any further because I was pretty sure that the girl making up my flowers was also racking up the price as she went along too. Ten pounds quickly turned into twenty.
This time, in Morrisons, on the back of my latest success at Bread Roulette, for eight pounds I found the bunch of flowers which looked the least like they came from a supermarket, as it had thistles in it, and I imagined someone would pass comment as I wandered around the shop with it, or on the journey home, still holding onto my peculiar notion about how men carrying flowers must appear, even if you were the Milk Tray Man himself, which I’m not; although if you were break into a lady’s bedroom these days and leave her a threatening silhouette calling card, and a cheap box of chocolates, it’s only likely to get the Police involved. The seventies and eighties must have been a simpler, happier time.
Yet even without my black polo neck jumper nobody in the shop looked at me oddly as I carried around my Stonebaked Baguette and bunch of thistles, nor did anyone even made eye contact, and not a soul saw me in the street walking home… Well not unless the girl from Costa Coffee spied me from her window again.
Late one summer night, as I was passing, I popped into Tesco to try to get some sell-by date salad leaves for my tadpoles and, along with some bags of watercress and lettuce, I also found an exotic tub of hummus and a punnet of firm organic mushrooms for just 47 pence all in. Bargain. Already up on the deal I went to check out the bakery for another round of Bread Roulette.
Even though I regarded the Morrisons’ bakery as my home ground for their wide range of quality fresh brown breads from around the world, whilst Asda could be relied upon for anything you wanted as long as it was white and disturbingly stodgy, as an intrepid yeast-based gambler I nonetheless arrived at the technically inferior in-store “bakery” even though it had been revealed that Tesco didn’t actually bake their own fresh bread but had part-cooked and frozen produce delivered from a distribution centre to be warmed it their ovens to give the impression that they did.
As it was late I was expecting slim pickings but found a good selection of artisan breads still on the shelf, with only minimal reductions. I toyed over whether to plump for the Mediterranean Bread or a Kalamata Olive Longue, whatever the hell either of them were, as I use Bread Roulette to broaden my horizons. Whilst I was rooting a Tesco man with a price gun appeared in my peripheral vision and so I chanced my arm, being no mug, and stepped back no way the interested customer who was about to buy anyway. I metaphorically whistled a jaunty tune, whilst pretending to be examining a panel on the ceiling, so as not to make eye contact in case it put this man off from reducing them further. Throughout all this the eternal words of Del Boy from one of the most famous scenes in British TV comedy floated in the air: “Play it nice and cool son, nice and cool, you know what I mean.”
My ruse, however, was all in vain as the man with the price gun didn’t reduce everything still further; instead he just hefted all the fresh bread off the shelves and into a big plastic sack. A bit perturbed I stepped in closer to read what was printed on it: “Not fit for human consumption”. As the loaf I was looking at had ended up at the bottom of the sack I gave up all hope, and didn’t leap in, even though I could have put my many good years of bran tub experience to some use. Instead I remonstrated with the man about how it was all such a waste of good food.
The Tesco baker didn’t apologise. Instead he explained to me how they won’t reduce their fresh breads any more than 25 % and that the mighty Tesco empire would rather throw them away than kowtow on bended knee to the customer by reducing them any further. Those weren’t quite his words, but you get the gist: that, it seems, is the Tesco way. It was only 10 pm.
So even though Tesco bakeries don’t bake their own, and they’re really not as fresh as you might like to imagine, it seems that their bakery produce must go through some dramatic transformation after ten o’clock, like something out of Cinderella, and so it seems that this man had helped me to dodge a bullet because if I’d picked up that loaf, at a minute to ten, then when I ripped off a piece on the way home, at a time when it became Not fit for human consumption, I’d have undoubtedly been poisoned.
So, surprise surprise, I’d discovered how big chain supermarkets are evil and run by heartless creatures; I also discovered, after I got home, that it wasn’t without good reason that there were so many tubs of jalapeno hummus sitting around in the salad aisle at the end of the day and marked up, reduced to clear, for only fourteen pence each.
I had been in the right place at the right time by the bakery in Morrisons Supermarket, with my eye on some in-store-baked German bread, when some old gimmer rocked up to join the party and said to the man who was slowly reducing them: “We’re not crowding you, are we?”
The man with the task of reducing the bread was fine as according to him Sunday afternoon at 3 pm was far, far worse as there’s pushing, shoving, and scrapping as if it were the last big shop before the zombie apocalypse.
“…hanging around you like vultures”, he added.
“Or like locusts”, I corrected him, with the better simile, seeing as this wasn’t meat or some desert-bound carcass we were talking about and fighting over.
He considered this for a moment and told me that, as he was an avian fan, he was going to stick with the vultures. I wasn’t that fussed to be honest but this is what real people, in real life, talk about across a table of discounted supermarket bread products. But mine was the best.
Those sort of duels are sadly now a thing of the past as my local Morrisons in Whitefield, the birthplace of Bread Roulette, has undergone a half-million pound refurbishment which you would have thought should have been designed to make it better, yet the main change seems to have been that they’d killed off the attractive big-cheeked bread girl. To a good many people she was the face of Bread Roulette, and the face of the store because, whilst all the rest of the staff were transient, at 7 pm she’d always appear, like a cuckoo from a clock, and start reducing all the good bread. Another detriment, a sacrifice to the altar of improvement, was that they no longer even seemed to bake the good bread.
The only redeeming feature of the Morrisons refit was that in an attempt to reposition themselves towards the middle classes they fitted a machine to keep their extraordinary new display of exotic root vegetables encompassed within a fine mist at all times. I think they must ramp this up in the evening because when I discovered this, entering the supermarket with Adam Ant’s Prince Charming kicking off on my mp3 player, I was engulfed in a bank of rolling fog spilling off the samphire and purple potatoes and for one incredible moment I thought that I was on Stars in Their Eyes and that I was the Dandy Highwayman.
The local Tesco has had a major refit too, carried out by someone with a twisted decking fetish, and the main advantage of their new layout seems to be that the blouses are now within touching distance of the bananas. And some people call that progress.
Management in Morrisons may have been disparaging about Bread Roulette, and the relatively low prices it garnered them, but what they clearly failed to take into account was that it got me into their store on a regular basis and whilst I may have just wandered in to check out what new bread I could discover I never, ever, seemed to leave without making additional impulse purchases. Purchases which I stopped making when I had no raison d’être to even turn up… doubly so if raison d’être was what those Turtle’s eyes were really made from.
Without the bread I removed my regular patronage from Morrisons, in protest at Whitefield’s £500,000 refurbishment, and I did note with a sense of glee shortly afterwards how the company’s profits were down a billion pounds. I guess all those small basket purchases must add up.
I had always extolled the fact about how Morrisons had the best supermarket bakery, yet now with my gambling days behind me, I’ll forever fondly recall that big-cheeked bread girl, now that she seems to be brown bread; oh to squeeze her baps again. These days all that happens is that at some indeterminate point in the evening some slovenly employee trudges out to removes all the remaining bread they have left on the shelf and then without care or love they just wham it through the slicer. And some people call that progress.