You know that recent BBC class calculator that showed there were now, apparently, seven new classes? Well one of the questions was about who your friends are, as in, what they do. There weren’t enough boxes for me to tick because I’m proud that my social circle includes all sorts of people. I’m perfectly comfortable talking to members of parliament, the aristocracy, cleaners, sales people, chief executives. It’s not that I don’t care what people do, I care a lot, as people spend so much time at work and it matters. But I’m fortunate in that I was brought up being able to speak to everyone, as long as they are happy to talk to me and are polite. I choose my friends according to what sort of person they are, not what they do.
My parents were also immigrants, you see. They did hard physical work at times because they didn’t have a huge amount of choice. That didn’t make them stupid or not worthy of conversation. Far from it, they are two of the most successful people I know. They also spoke two languages, albeit one with an accent. This already made them more accomplished than most of the English people I met. I worked in my mum and dad’s cafe from the age of seven until I was 18. I saw how people treat waiting staff. Not always good. After I became a journalist, my father opened an ice cream shop and when I used to help out, people were generally lovely. But a few would treat me appallingly. If we got talking, how we got talking I’m not sure, but if we did, and they found out what I did, their attitude to me would change. I found that short sighted.
Anyway, the point is that I get invited round to lots of different sorts of houses. And whilst I can hold a conversation with anyone, the area I used to stall over, is gifts.
It shouldn’t be a problem, but I would get into a tizz over what to bring really rich people who are friends but I don’t know really well. I just felt that, as they could buy themselves anything they wanted, what constitutes a gift, a treat? With friends that I’ve grown up with I’m more familiar with their tastes. Thoughtfulness goes a long way towards the currency of a gift.
I remember being invited to the house of a friend of mine once. He was hugely wealthy, had stables, horses, a chauffeur. When we became friends he gave me five phone numbers. His number in the country, his number in London, his number in the car, his driver’s number and his number in the stables. This was a bit before mobiles were really wide-spread so not as ridiculous as it sounds. Well, not quite. You get the picture. I knew he liked cigars, so I saved up all month to buy him two cigars. Two cigars. Before I took them out he said to me he asked me if I’d like to see his wine cellar. (Really, to choose the wine, this wasn’t foreplay.) As we descended the spiral staircase, I saw row upon row of wines. Really expensive wines like Pichon Lalande, 1982. And then, to my slight dismay, I saw boxes piled high, stuffed full of cigars. I shouldn’t have, as my offering was genuinely meant, but I felt embarrassed and I never gave him my paltry two cigars. This was stupid as he’d have been gracious, but part of me also thought ‘he has loads, I’ll keep these for myself’.
I learned right then that if in doubt, don’t spend money. You can never compete. Or, I can’t. Make something. I’d always known this as it’s in the very structure of my DNA, being Italian where no-one goes into a house without a small jar of something home made or grown. Be it some biscuits, a jar of passata, perhaps a dishcloth full of hazelnuts or some limongello. But I’d somehow forgotten. The first time I made something home made was for my friend K. This was the sort of girl who would take me to her house for the weekend, and blow £80 in a deli on ‘breakfast’. I couldn’t compete with her wealth. So I made her a cake. As I handed it over she said (slightly teary eyed as I remember) “in all the years people have been coming to my house, no-one has ever made me anything”.
This is a rather roundabout way of telling you about bread bags. If, like me, you make bread for people then what do you give it to them in? Not a plastic bag, as you’d lose your lovely crust. A fancy dishcloth perhaps, but who has those? Plus if they’re really nice dishcloths I don’t want to hand them over. Look, my generosity only goes so far. These bags are great. They have tiny air holes in them so they let the bread breathe (and therefore they also let out any crumbs and flour that’s lurking around the crust). They’re inexpensive and they’re better and cheaper than the Lakeland ones which were too big in the wrong way (long but not correspondingly wide). I got the 30cm x 40cm ones but they also come in different sizes and I paid about £2.88 for 25. (Lakeland ones are £3.29 for 12.) My Lakeland bags also kept breaking when I put the bread in. So far I’ve not had that problem with these.
Here is a close up where you can see the tiny holes. I do apologise for the pictures. They aren’t great. For some reason it was hard to capture what I wanted to. But it’s really the bread wot’s the star here, the bag is simply a method of transportation.