This week’s blog is not about baking, new products  or the trials and tribulations of setting up Rex Bakery Ltd.

Neil AngearInstead this blog will address the subject of life & death.  We are shocked and saddened to have just lost a key employee and friend, Neil Angear, who passed away suddenly over the weekend.  I want to share the little of his life that I experienced and what I learned of the man, over the five months I knew Neil .

When we met in February, he had been 3 years out of work, a casualty of the economic downturn. A man approaching 50, dispensed with because he was a bit too resistant to change, too expensive & too old for the modern highly mechanised fast bakery world.

I knew I had found a diamond after just a couple of hours with him.  He travelled from Oxhey that night , the other side of Watford, to come bake in my garage at 1am one cold February night.  As he was an epileptic  he had to travel by public transport & came 2 hours early and sat in the Sugar Loaves Pub, drinking water,  until they kicked him out, just so he wouldn’t be late.  He sat on my doorstep for an hour in the cold, not wanting to wake me up.

I knew straight away I had met somebody who could help me build Rex Bakery.  Clearly a selfless and considerate man, but Neil also had the experience, know-how & drive to be a key part of my team.

You have to love being a baker.

Just consider the nocturnal existence – going to bed at 5pm to start work at 1am. It affects everything around you. Your family & friends never see you & when they do on a Saturday, you are largely trying to recover from the exertions and lack of sleep from the week before.  You need total commitment – it’s much easier not to do it

It is also a very physical job,  lifting 25kg sacks endlessly, cutting & manipulating doughs of significant weight, shuttling all the bread doughs in and out of ovens by hand on a wooden board and of course the tremendous heat, four very large ovens at 250c, some 50cm from you for most of the time you are working.

Neil in Rex BakeryIt is very hard existence and something most of us who have had a professional working life have never experienced. Real graft, making things, trying to get them better every day, trying to adjust for the ever changing vagaries of how a dough is reacting to that particular day’s environment. Trying to get the finish right, to get all the breads through the ovens at the right moment, so nothing is over or under proved.

It is demanding ,very hard work back there in the bakery.  It is a true skill, a labour of love, one that is largely undervalued in our modern world and Neil embraced that life.

I think baking  had made things difficult in his past, being a contributing factor in the end of his marriage, as had his passion for Chelsea FC.

Until he lost his job, Neil had long been a season ticket holder, a regular supporter both home and away, in Britain and Europe.  He felt a deep affinity with Chelsea FC and the band of brothers he followed with Stamford Bridge . He was a true supporter, not an armchair fan like me.  Just last week, he caught me a little by surprise with his genuine rage over the latest Luis Suarez biting incident, and I realised it really boiled down to the last attack by Suarez on a Chelsea player, a season or so ago. He really felt that Chelsea were his family.

I know also that Neil loved his real family deeply as well, who were all from North London and he kept in weekly contact with them all.  Our sincere sympathies are with them at this very sad time.

For Caroline & me, Neil was the backbone of our new business and we relied on him greatly.  He was fun to work with & gently ribbed me & our team, which made the bakery a happy place to work.

I will miss him a great deal and I cannot believe this has happened. We were celebrating his 50th birthday only a few weeks ago so how can this be?

Neil, you are sorely missed, rest in peace.