Bags of doughnuts would come from Alan’s baker’s van. Once a pale blue van from the Co-operative Retail Society, it had become a grey one when when he had begun to work for himself. Alan had a surname, but it was a word that had involved the letter “z” not being sounded as what I thought the letter “z” should sound like, so it was easier just to call him “Alan.” (Names not sounding as they should was always a confusing phenomenon, a school headmaster called Jack Dalziel had a name that sounded nothing like what was written on paper – in school he was simply called “Jack,” probably more because few people knew how to say what sounded like Dee-Ell, than as a nickname).
Anyway, Alan would call with fresh bread three times a week. Uncut, crusty loaves that still bore the scent of their baking. Times being what they were, treats were not always plentiful, but occasionally we would be allowed a bag of doughnuts. They were bought in precise numbers; never more than one doughnut per person.
The eating of doughnuts was a serious affair, to be undertaken at the red formica-topped kitchen table with plates to catch the crumbs. Doughnuts were not something to be rushed; each mouthful was eaten with relish. The sugar that inevitably gathered around the mouth of a small child would be gathered with a lick of the lips. Care would be taken to eat the doughnut in a particular way, trying to keep the jam until the final bites. A misjudged bite might result in jam being lost, it landing on the plate, or worse, on the kitchen table.
A bag of Tesco doughnuts lay on the kitchen worktop when I came home from work this evening. At £1 for four, they must be a fraction of the cost in real terms that they had been in the 1960s. People would think nothing now of spending £1 on a bar of chocolate or a fizzy drink. Taking a doughnut from the bag and eating it whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, there was a moment’s memory of being a few feet from where I stood, sat at the kitchen table with a doughnut from Alan’s van.
It seems odd, in retrospect, that something as mundane as a doughnut could have brought such a sense of delight, its taste and texture lingering in the mouth fifty years after it was eaten.