On a mission??

A digression on the downside of being rather more opinionated than is good for me. I’ve always been something of a fundamentalist – in the traditional sense of needing always to go back to basics. So there’s an instinctive progression of thoughts and ideas with me that functions like a microclimate. Here’s an instance.


I’ve been baking bread on and off since we were first married so that’s fifty two years give or take. My first port of call whenever I want to do something or learn a new skill is to read everything I can get my hands on. But not for me the exotic and elaborate confections that please the eye and get photographed in the Sunday supplements . I want to dig down to the simplest instance of my quarry. For years it was a cottage loaf like the ones my mother would occasionally buy at the bakery. It took me about ten years to learn that bread dough positively thrives on a bit of neglect. I was always fiddling, prodding, turning and looking for the trick that would yield the Ur Loaf, the Dead Sea Scroll of the living bread. Eventually I forgot to fiddle, got too busy to prod and neglected a loaf. It was the best I’d ever managed.

But somehow I’d slipped into a puritanical fundamentalism that forbade me even to glimpse at a different way of doing things, or using a new ingredient. I suppose if you’ve ever been forced to eat half-mouldy, wholemeal onion bread (“I’ve never tried this before”) and attempted to control your gag reflex while smiling weakly and saying “mm delicious” you might be suspicious of novelty. But that’s a cop-out, it was me really, clinging to the raft of certainty in a roaring sea of possibilities and ingredients. I wanted a monogamous relationship with the loaf I’d always longed for and only found after a perilous journey through hardship and loss.

Some time ago, because there was nothing else left on the shelf, I bought a sliced loaf (mea culpa) of Bertinet’s sourdough, malted, multi-seeded Notting Hill Carnival bread (I made some of that up!) It was delicious. So I bought a bag of the same sort of flour and baked a loaf in a bread machine. I felt like a complete culinary slapper , but it was good. As Robin (my psychotherapist) would often say to me “what on earth is wrong with that?”. “Never let the perfect drive out the best” – exceptionally good advice for me. My parents abandoned my sister and me to a Primitive Methodist Sunday School when we were young and impressionable, hence the psychoanalytic psychotherapy to help me out of the shackles I was dragging around, like Mendoza dragging his armour and weapons around in “The Mission”.

2017-09-23 17.31.00

Last year I was very much looking forward to the arrival of the Katz book since I became inflamed with the thought of fermenting things. When it arrived I read Michael Pollan’s foreword, and skimmed through the text. Suddenly I was back in the world of the Whole Earth Catalogue and it felt good that in the midst of the madness of Brexit and Trump there are other voices not yet surpassed and crushed by neoliberal orthodoxy. We shall push back with pickled gherkins and sauerkraut!

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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