by: Soul Miles

Photos courtesy of Soul Miles

I spend some of my time, not enough time, as a cleaner in a bakery. Airborne flour and hot humidity cover every surface of the bakery (every) with a sort of very flat flatbread. This process is very democratic, egalitarian, NAY, utopian… every countertop, tile, machine, anywhere that falls under the vertical light of the tubular fluorescents, the same path as gravity, will get some. I wet it down, and then I rub. That is the fundament, the job description.

My Dad, in the eighties, had the same sort of job, he was also a cleaner in a bakery, but things were different, forty years of things have happened since then / things have happened / things, for forty years / forty years / things / time / stuff - there is a distance between here and then / now and there.*

I can’t confidently say how things were different back then, or rather, I don’t know what grammar is best to use to say the obvious thing which we all know, which is that the eighties, obviously, were different. Evidenced by the fact I lack the ability to even write the simplest sentence, I am so not qualified to describe any of the changes that have happened to get us to this point, (‘point’ being definitely the wrong shape). Instead, I want to briefly situate these two experiences, mine and my dad’s, in time and/or place, and ‘place’ them together -in mind- to communicate of their own accord, without me, and hopefully they will imply something of the last 40 years, but they might not, in which case buckle in for very boring few minutes of your life that will not be got back.

Up on a hill in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England there was a bakery (currently not baking) which was a factory, back then there were no local bakery’s in the area at all, only big ones, factories. The ’your local baker’ trend seems to be nostalgic for a time somewhere before even the 70’s or 80’s. The majority of its staff fell into two camps, young boy cleaners, and older WWII survivors who would tell exaggerated tales of their wartime heroics to the young boy cleaners. The YBC’s worked on a zero-hours-like-non-contract similar to the dockyard workers of the 20’s described by Orwell. They would turn up and if it was pre-dawn, then they’d maybe get work, after a couple of years of this you still wouldn’t have contracted work but it was acceptable to queue jump.

It’s large for a bakery but not for a factory, the size of a few supermarkets, or, the duration of a 5 minute walk. Lorries with tanks of flour (earthed nowadays cuz explosions), burly people with 25kg sacks of flour and conveyor belts would ‘convey’ flour up to the second floor, to descend as dough, slowly, through a long oven and into plastic wraps, each loaf costed 30p. Unlike the rest of the bakery the ovens were cleaned by adults, working in two’s where -because of the heat- they would go in one at a time, back to back, for 20 minutes at a time to rub, and then they would get out and wipe the sweat from their brow (I imagine) then drink this special salty orange squash. My dad spent most of his time in the fresh cream room, coveted because it was cold, and potentially for its sci-fi aesthetic of stainless steel everything, tiles, walls, shelves, ceiling… rubbing like an electron in a wire, or, a bullet in a gun.

Half the bakery would cool for a few hours after the nightshift, before the kids were let in to clean it. The over half of the factory would still be producing. The bread was made with an accelerated recipe, would prove for a few moments, and then would spend another brief moment in the oven, to cook, another in a fridge to cool and then it’d get wrapped and packed and sent off, the bread was always leaving, huge amounts of it, flour lorries go in, bread lorries go out.

“My dad spent most of his time in the fresh cream room, coveted because it was cold, and potentially for its sci-fi aesthetic of stainless steel everything, tiles, walls, shelves, ceiling… rubbing like an electron in a wire, or, a bullet in a gun.”

I wet down congealed matter, the same as above, into a slurry with a variety of chemical help, then with bristles and sponges rub away the undesirableness. Its a hunting down of the matter which escapes, the loose ends, the inefficiencies of the mostly perfect process, the stuff that is lost in every movement or action, an imperfect pour, scrape, knead -stuff like that-. Flour which escapes being dough, and dough which escapes being bread, and bread which escapes being eaten. And then ofc, circularly, the eaten carbohydrates which escape being movements become a different kind of movement, which I clean off the toilet bowl. I am employed to reconcile the complexities of process.  On your hands and knees the job is to toil at the not very personable interface complexity has, one of dirt, this is the unintended, the undesigned. Complexity is abstract, maybe the abstract, located here in what is by all accounts a very realistic looking world.**

In comparison to the 80’s, the bakery is small and it costs £3.10 for a regular loaf, where it is delivered to an expensive home in South East London by cyclists, on casual contracts, 4 of whom are called Joe. The bakery is at the bottom level of a new build, with a family of neighbours upstairs who complain about the smell of freshly made bread in the mornings, and, an architect neighbour to the left who complains about the noise of the mixer which is on for 45 minutes during the day at the same decibel level as a whisper. Once a week a burly dude carrying two 18kg sacks of organic flour at a time stacks them onto wooden pallets in the bakery. Some kind of official somewhere deemed that sacks of 25 kilos were too heavy to carry safely, so it was lowered to 18kg, now they are without exception always carried in, over the shoulder, in twos, one on top of the other.

Bread is baked in the day, using what is apparently thousand year old recipes, (the real time which we are nostalgic for ofc), then left overnight to cool, and in the morning, cyclists arrive to distribute the bread to the masses. If by masses you mean, people with large amounts of expendable income.

“Complexity is abstract, maybe the abstract, located here in what is by
all accounts a very realistic looking world.”

*Which to lean on? A spacial metaphor for time, ‘over there’, or a durational metaphor for distance ‘back then’, the obvs dif being that the third dimension is more malleable than the fourth, which has lit a fire under us. JUST KEEP SWIMMING. Even if u are v still, u won’t fall backwards, through the fire, unfortunately.

**With the pre-Thatcher 80’s bakery and the post-Cameron roaring (with agony) nu-20’s bakery, there is the question (cuz Ive got that capitalist realist head on my shoulders) which is more efficient?

The neoliberal move is one of splintering, privatising, individuation… decentralising responsibility whilst centralising wealth to a few doooods. We are a series of agents, maybe not believing in it, but still running the ‘Atlas Shrugged’ operating system, behaving relatively selfishly as lone neoliberal actors, fucking shit up, and yet, here we are still. Well maybe not for long, but I will put in writing that it is always surprising that it sort of runs, not well, and certainly not for lots of folks, but the machine, it runs. It kinda shouldn’t work, and it doesn’t, but it also does, just well enough to keep going. The omnipotence of it is in the incompetence. The inefficiencies, by fact of their existence removes power from those who are incentivised to solve the inefficiencies, because it’s in those inefficiencies that they (we) are based.

I don’t believe, with no real evidence to give u to back up this belief, that ‘centralised’ has to mean more efficient and ’decentralised’ less, like if u said this to an anarchist they would milkshake you probably, maybe that’s why I believe it, fear of being milk-shooken. It’s like redundancy vs. nimbleness maybe, in a decentralised system there is a lot of redundancy, repetition of the same tasks, stuff like that, but players are more free, more nimble, less beauracracy gets in the way, often the people making decisions are closer to the ‘doing’ being done…

We are in a resource crisis, there are too many and too few, much too many have too few, and much many have too much, much too much. This is bad because it’s inefficient. There isn’t an efficient distribution of resources that we do have. And the resources that we do have don’t operate efficiently within the system they come from. Efficiency might be a useful metric to approach this process with. The language of the oppressor. Sort of. The word efficiency is leveraged in support of a lot of violence, 0.7 percent of GDP for a foreign aid budget being an inefficient use of resources, for instance. It’s the classic, cold ‘calculated’ weapon wielded by ‘The Man’ (men). This is why you were made redundant; ‘redundant’ being the operative word there.

Monetary value is an invented quality, pure fiction, clear BS. A different option could perhaps be something like counting carbon. A universal basic carbon budget. “That will cost you, 12,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 Carbons please.” One of the probs many issues here, is the stickyness, because carbon is real, not BS, (u read it here first). Because this, its less quantifiable, as I can count the number of carbon atoms in and on and with and how and where and who and what my bread, there are significant tolerances. Tolerances which just don’t appear with the pure fiction of cash, of something which functions as pure belief. Here qualitative and quantitative become jumbled. It’s easier calculating with quality rather than quantity, which seems weird. 

About the writer Soul Miles is a writer, and is probably somewhere in London right now, where he might be rubbing. Upcoming work includes: RAD, UNREAL, STOKED, Or, The Literary Quality of the Surfer Slang I Gleemed from 90’s American Pop Culture; and; Parking Ticket Inspectors, Who Are They Anyway And Why Do They Hate Me?


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