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U3A Writing: Sliced Bread

Merle Parkin tells the tasty tale of a notable vistory for sliced bread.

"Sliced bread!" yelled the head of the house, "Good God, what's wrong with you Woman? You'll send a man to the wall. It's tuppence a loaf extra, just for THEM to slice it! And it's that bloody thin it won't stay on a toasting fork."

The way he carried on about it, I'd surmise that my father didn't think sliced bread was the greatest thing since - well, since sliced bread.

Mum knew better. She'd sneaked an electric toaster into the house after getting it on time payment. 'Time-payment' was an even dirtier word in Dad's lexicon than "sliced bread', because it enabled a woman to buy things for the house without a bloke knowing he was paying for them. Perhaps Mum foresaw this argument, for she bought the thing with her own money.
She raised the cash for the installments by threading price tags for the printing factory. At three bob a thousand for the tags, she'd certainly earned her toaster, but the doorstep slices one cut with the bread-knife wouldn't allow the door of the toaster to close. Anyway, she reckoned we might eat less bread if we had to toast twice as many bits.

"Where'd that thing come from?" my father roared, the first time he walked in and caught her making toast electrically.

"You bought it for me when you were full." We kids recoiled at such a barefaced fib from Mum, but when Dad looked to me for support, I said:
"That's right, Dad. don't you remember?"

I counted on the fact that he seldom remembered anything he'd done while he was pickled. and also, that having initiated the lie, Mum wouldn't take me to task about reinforcing it. If I'd told him he'd bought it, she'd have judged me as past redemption. So the toaster stayed, but he still whinged about the sliced bread. Mum would buy a bum shaped loaf, just to keep the peace, when he was half pickled and cranky.

"Just cut it thinner, woman, and it will fit in the thing. Here, give it to me." He put out his hand for the bread-knife. She handed him the knife, and he mangled half a loaf, trying to cut it thin. We kids remained silent, and Mum watched the knife nervously.

"This knife's blunt." He declared, as yet another slice crumbled. "Get me the sharpener." He was looking at me, and I was trying to decide whether it was better to get your throat cut with a blunt bread-knife, or a freshly sharpened one. I knew where Mum kept the steel. She and I exchanged but the slightest flicker of an eyelid. I pulled out the drawer, and shoved the steel over the space at the back, riffling the cutlery noisily so he wouldn't hear it fall behind the saucepans.

"Can't find it, Dad. Maybe you'd better cut a thick slice and toast it on the fork." I reached down the wire fork to him as I spoke. He cut a thick slab, and handed it to me. "You do it for me, Love."

He only ever called me "Love" when he was three quarters asleep, and thought I was a barmaid. I took my time toasting it, and indeed he was asleep, sprawled across the table, when I turned from the wood stove. I buttered the toast and left it there, in case he remembered when he woke. I hid the knife, so he'd forget that.

An hour after I turned in, I heard him go out to water the peach tree. Then his bedsprings creaked, and his shoes thumped one after the other on the floor.

Somewhere in the recesses of his memory, his battle with the bum-loaf must have registered, for though he reminded us frequently, "Tuppence a loaf is daylight robbery!" he never again demanded the bread-knife. Sliced bread had come to stay.

"Your mother never did know how to make toast properly," he told us, "It's why I bought her the toaster."


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