Using your loaf

It has to be said, I’ve never really become accustomed to the luxury of fresh bread made only from wheat. It’s not that Shena and I don’t eat bread, but I suspect most comes from my patrons. Or rather from their cooks who will slip me the last third of a loaf with the comment, “It’ll toast well.”

You can buy rolled oats far more economically that flour so we will regularly start the day with porridge. Mind you, thanks to my less formal sources of bread, we rarely rely on the ‘porridge drawer.’
I first came across this institution when I was doing some temporary clerking work for Newdamp Chuffley. Old Newdamp had a foundry at the time, and whilst he ran a good foundry, his paperwork was a nightmare.

An order would come in and old Newdamp’s wife, Clovelly, would open the envelope, and put the order at the bottom of the ‘to do’ pile. The lads would come in and take the next job off the top of the ‘to do’ pile. The problem with this system is that when you wanted to know who the job was for, how much they owed you, (all the boring stuff) this was written on the order which one of the lads might have put somewhere safe, somewhere out there in the yard. To be fair, most of his regular customers would turn up and go through the pile of castings until they found those that were probably theirs, and come to a price for them with Old Newdamp. But new customers struggled to find their feet with this system.
So I was hired to try and create a system. Clovelly apparently recommended me on the grounds that whilst my system might not be any better, it would be more elegant and almost certainly more fun. In simple terms, with the new system, when the order came in, it was copied into a book with all the details. The order was given a number, and whilst the lads still took the piece of paper out into the yard, it had the order number written on the piece of paper, and they would chalk this onto the cooling castings.

Now I realise this is hardly a work of genius, and it did have flaws. But I think even the most carping critic will realise that it did work better than the original. Now the customer could go into the office, say what they ordered, and find it in the book. They then merely had to find the castings with their number on it, and the book also said how much they had to pay.

The real barrier to progress in this field was the men who worked at Chuffley’s. Now as individuals I got on well with them. As a group they were fine. As foundry workers they appeared entirely competent and hard working. But they were adamant that they weren’t clerks and they had a very casual attitude to paperwork. Given that the foundry boasted an earth closet for the men at the far end of the yard, I would not be surprised if most of the order chits ended up serving an invaluable purpose there.

The reason Chuffley’s survived is probably due to the work ethic of both Old Newdamp and his employees. Newdamp habitually referred to them as ‘his daft lads.’ My experience is that they rather lived up to the name, having a reputation for drinking more beer than was entirely wise, and getting into all sorts of petty affrays. Most mornings the Watch would deliver two or three to work from whatever cell they’d stored them in overnight. Now one wants to be fair. Foundry men drink a lot. They have to. They work in the heat and the sweat runs freely. Indeed Newdamp had a large barrel in the middle of the yard. It was half filled with beer, topped up with water, and a generous quantity of salt was added. Given the calibre of most Port Naain brewers, Newdamp may even have improved it. But men working in the foundry could take a tankard of it at any time.

Another peculiarity was the porridge drawer. Because his daft lads were prone to chaotic lives, breakfast was something that they regularly missed. So at the desk where his wife sat, one drawer was filled with porridge. Each evening she made a big pan of remarkably thick porridge and poured it into the drawer. Next day, anybody who asked would get a slice cut for them. It was good porridge, and she was a decent woman and had a salt cellar to hand for those who wished it spicing a little.

Apparently the porridge drawer was a venerable institution. Newdamp’s grandfather had been a labourer at the foundry and had worked his way up to charge hand. His father had worked his way up to manager, and Newdamp had finally managed to buy the business. Apparently Newdamp’s grandmother made good porridge. His mother was, if anything, even more accomplished. Newdamp was brought up on porridge for breakfast and wasn’t above having a slice in the middle of the day to ‘put him on.’

But there came a time when the young Newdamp’s thoughts turned to matrimony. He was something of a catch. Ruggedly handsome, well known as a decent enough chap, prosperous and running a good business. Obviously his choice of bride was curtailed in that he was ‘in trade.’ It wouldn’t have mattered to somebody like Lord Cartin. The old aristocracy are above such things. But for the prosperously respectable, who are in ‘the law’ or ‘in business’ and whose grandfathers had been pirates or brigands, the grandson of a labourer was beyond the pale.

Now I only heard the stories. I wasn’t alive at the point. But it seems that Newdamp put various young ladies to the test. Candidates for the position of a future Mrs Newdamp Chuffley were expected to spend a little time at the desk in the foundry handling orders, coping with the daft lads, and even more importantly, making the porridge for the porridge drawer.

It seems that many fell by the wayside. Their porridge was so thin it ran out of the drawer onto the floor. Or they would treat the daft lads with ill-concealed disdain. Finally, it was Clovelly whose porridge was not merely thick, but smooth as well. She was the only one who thought to bring a salt cellar with her. Finally she could turn a daft lad who staggered in with a hangover into a relatively efficient worker. (She claimed having older brothers gave her an unfair advantage in this particular field.) It was generally agreed by the daft lads that if Newdamp didn’t marry her, one of them would have to.

I remember one of my patrons who had known Clovelly when they’d both been girls. She said, “She wasn’t the prettiest of us, and certainly wasn’t the richest, but she was just a nice girl.”

She was a nice lady when I met her as well.  


Should you want to know more about Tallis Steelyard and Port Naain

As a reviewer commented, “Benor Dorfinngil is a busy man; everyone wants him to solve their problems, from finding a missing husband, securing tenants for a haunted rental property, to vetting potential suitors for vulnerable young ladies.
He has an eventful life in Port Naain with his friends and acquaintances who are interesting characters in their own right. Ulterior motives, double dealing, plots and counter plots abound in this novella. The pace really picks up in the final quarter, suspense and danger abounding. Thoroughly enjoyable.”

7 thoughts on “Using your loaf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s