Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to visit Kingston & District Master Bakers and it made me realise that the majority of regional associations are no longer in existence.
While we cannot go back in time, we have lost so much by not meeting regularly with fellow bakers; it is so good to know you are not alone and that almost everyone has the same problems as you do. After dinner, we had an enjoyable question and answer session. One of the questions asked of me was what I thought the future would hold for us.
Well I think the future will be very good for us in the trade. Think about it! In the old days, any really good baker we had could leave us and start up on his own, sometimes in competition just around the corner. Now, it is almost impossible, as he would need at least £150,000 just to get started - and that is virtually nothing when you consider the cost of shop- fitting and bakery equipment.
So we are in competition with the fast food outlets and we have - or at least should have - most of the advantages. We know our local market, we have complete control of our products and quality and can produce new products very quickly to take advantage of new trends.
So why are some bakers not doing better? I think it is because they get into a comfort zone. They may well own their property and make a comfortable living and, quite reasonably, cannot see a good reason to change.
Yet any business needs passion and commitment and that is very difficult to maintain, considering the long hours so many bakers work. My managing director Neville does all the work, so it is very easy for me to have enormous interest - and even ambition - for our company, although I must admit that, with so little talent, I never did a great deal of hands-on work - none in fact.
However I really did think that, when I reached a certain age, my interest would wane, but it never has and I am as keen to learn today as I was 30 years ago. Even now, I cannot see why the British Confectioners’ Association elected Neville and not me - not that I am envious, just hurt, particularly now that Albert Waterfield knows I am a fellow craftsman!
We old folks have to live vicariously on the news Neville brings back from meetings and all the good ideas he learns, particularly when he name-drops. Meanwhile, my wife Barbara and I sit at home watching Tom and Jerry cartoons.
Getting older is difficult to deal with and Barbara says my memory is not what it was; so far this year, I’ve forgotten her birthday, our anniversary and who’s boss in the home.
The only good thing I can say about old age is you only have to go through it once, although I’m not looking forward to graduation. One final piece of advice: always tell people you are 20 years older than you are, then they will always compliment you on how good you look for your age.