I hate buttering bread. Don’t misunderstand me, I do a good job of spreading the creamy goodness over a thick slice of wholemeal, making sure I hit the crusts as I wield the knife from beginning to end, corner to corner both ways. But it wasn’t always like that.
In the dim and distant past, when I was but a kid attending an event that has long since left the memory, I recall being asked to help butter a ton of white bread. I think the occasion must have been a sporting one because the food preparation was done in a wooden shed, in a field, with a hatch through which food was served.
You know what it’s like on a hot day; food has to be kept cool. But this was ridiculous. The butter placed before me was so cool it was rock hard. However, the bread was doughy soft and gorgeous and I recall sneaking a few bits when no-one was looking. I always pinched a bit off the loaf when my Mom sent me shopping and every time I swore it was like that when I bought it.
After introducing me to another helper, a middle-aged woman who was adept at slicing bread, the person in charge presented me with a knife and told me to butter the slices as they were cut.
My companion’s name was Marge. Honest to God! Would I lie? May I drop dead while telling this tale if it’s not true. Her name was Marge, short for Marjory! She had yellow hair. Not the yellow of sunshine and buttercups but the yellow that’s really grey hair coated with nicotine. With fingers to match!
Marge was a fast worker, obviously well skilled for the job in hand. The speed with which she manipulated the bread knife would have won medals if there was such an event at the Olympics. But her speed wasn’t something I cared for since the heaps of sliced bread were growing too fast and too high. They looked positively daunting.
After a few sarcastic remarks about my slowness, likening it to a severe case of apathy, I set to work. I’d show her, I thought, as I grabbed the first slice and aimed the knife at the butter.
Did I say it was rock hard? Frozen solid would be a better description. The knife made no impression at all. I tried stabbing but that only made it skid off the plate. Several more attempts were made, all proving useless, but at least the butter stayed in one place. Marge said I needed a knife with a serrated edge but the shed was very limited in its content so I had to put up with the ordinary bone handled blunt bladed implement I’d been given to perform this important and now rather urgent task.
Minutes later, having managed to get some butter on the knife, I proceeded to spread it on the bread. Only it wouldn’t … spread, that is! Instead, it dug in and dragged the bread away from its crust. I tried pushing it back down but it was no good, the butter and bread were fused together.
Discarded that slice and selected another.
Same thing happened.
Marge said it would have been better to give us older bread but she didn’t think the punters would like it when they’d paid for fresh.
I persevered for a while but eventually I had no choice but to appeal for help. By this time Marge was so engrossed in her carving, going so fast she must have been in a race, that she didn’t hear the desperation in my voice.
Outside the door the organisers began to scream the urgency of getting ready for the fray, whatever that was.
I began to sweat.
So far I’d done nothing. Several crumbly bits of bread laden with hard lumps of butter was all I had to show for my efforts.
My nerves were in shreds. You have no idea how awful I felt.
I sweated some more, wondering what on earth I should do.
When suddenly …..
An angel appeared. This one really did have yellow hair … blonde yellow. She smiled at me, her pink lips and blue eyes seemed to radiate calm. Her name was Liz, but I prefer to think of her as Angelina. I loved her, I really did.
She surveyed the scene and set to work. First she fetched a small bowl of hot water, then she put the butter in a bowl, held it up to the hatch, in direct sunlight, and began to mash with a fork. In what seemed no time at all she was buttering bread while I watched in amazement. She asked me (note: asked, not told) to try again. I took the knife from her slender fingers and successfully buttered my first slice of bread.
‘Practice makes perfect,’ she said.
The look she gave me was so kind I fell under her spell, resolving to get through the rest of the loaf in double quick time.
Of course, I didn’t! My small hands wouldn’t work efficiently or fast. Marge said I was too young and too green, although I couldn’t imagine what she meant by ‘green’. I remember feeling very ashamed though, and even now I remember the incident as clearly as if it was yesterday. Yes, to this day, even with the soft spreads now available, I hate buttering bread.