I think back to my old school days and the excitement I felt when choosing subjects I enjoyed most for my GCSE's and A Levels. I was 15 years old when I was called into the school guidance councillor's office to discuss what subject choices would best suit my future. For some unknown reason, at this point I didn't actually think being a baker was a profession that would actually pay the bills. I thought it was simply a nice little hobby instead. So at the age of 15, being the fully-mature, strong, young, semi-independent woman I was *cue awkward silence here* I decided being a Dietitian was my calling. Now something you may not know about me is that my academic ability is close to zero. School for me was one massive struggle, anything really where I had to put pen to paper, I knew it would be below average. The only subjects I would do ok in were ones that had course work, or a practical side. My PE GCSE for instance, I got an A* in practical, but a U in the theory which brought my overall grade to an E. Food Technology my FAVOURITE subject ever! I got a D overall because yes, even the subjects I loved I still found it difficult to get the information I had in my head onto paper without it sounding like an 8-year-old child had written it. So anyway, back to becoming a Dietitian....
In the end, at AS level, I decided to take Food Technology and specialise in Bakery, Business Studies and Geography (because I loved it). Six months down the line I had dropped geography, I was failing it miserably so I was down to two subjects and in my eyes the most important two subjects. By the end of my first year of A Levels I had a C in Food Technology and D in Business Studies. I was told I was no longer allowed to carry on as anything below a C was a fail (yes I failed business!) I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't crying at this point. I honestly thought this was it and that I would be kicked out of school because you couldn't carry on with one subject. I was then allowed to take up another subject but this would be starting again at AS level. Now I was doing Food Tech at A Level and Product Design at AS Level. This was another Tech so another subject that was made up heavily of course work that would hopefully work in my favour... It didn't... I got a U.
By this point as you can imagine, I couldn't wait to leave school, finally walking away from a wasted two years, with no actual decent A levels. Not completely wasted though, I'm still waiting for parties to live up to the ones we had in sixth form and I've still got the best friends supporting me all the way so it wasn't all doom and gloom!
That summer I worked in my part time job in a local pub. Despite just being a barmaid and waitress I also made some of the puddings and when I felt brave enough I would attempt to bake the bread too. This was my first experience of not just me seeing myself as a potential baker but the chef seeing it in me too. I wasn't like most of my friends... September came and off they went to university. Don't get me wrong, I looked into going to Uni for a bakery course - my only choice would have been London South Bank University and, for that reason alone, I couldn't think of anything worse. I am a massive believer in, that if you put the work in, you will get to where you want to be. It may take longer, it may be harder, but you will get there when the time is right! For that reason, I spent the next 5 months annoying the local bakery asking for a job, I would just have "ring back in a couple of weeks." That's what I did until I think they got so sick of me asking for a job they finally gave me one (probably out of pity, but I didn't care!) honestly I was on cloud nine! This was it, the start of the rest of my life!
I don't know what shocked them more, the fact that I was an 18 year old that loved that we would start work at 4.00am (despite most of my friends who were in uni crawling back into bed in an alcohol induced state at that time) or my ability to be able to talk and have a conversation like I had been up for hours already - definitely a morning person and coffee was key! For the next two years I had about four different alarms for different days, ranging from 12.00am through to 6.00am and I would now consider 8.00am as mid-morning. I can't even begin to tell you how much I learnt at this bakery. I was pretty lucky to be moved around the different areas of the bakery and do a bit of everything from cake to pastry to decorating (but not a lot of bread, that was for the boys only!!) I soon fitted in with the people I worked with despite being 20 years younger. It was like another family and I was the child that could do nothing wrong *insert angel emoji here*. Fast forward six years, I am still very close to those bakers and still see them regularly. While finally bagging my first bakery job that was forty hours per week I also decided to put myself through college one day a week to at least try and give myself some qualifications. That September I enrolled into my local bakery college. I'd use local, maybe a little loosely here, because this college was in Neath and nearly a whole hour and a half away from where I lived. It was here that I learnt all about Professional Bakery and let me tell you, this was my kind of course! We baked every week with the theory side being a work book that we had to record pictures of what we had made that week, no written exams just marked on the practical, delighted! I also went on to do a second year of Cake Decorating. Finally, something I passed with flying colours!
After working in the bakery for two years I felt I had made the most of the experience and that I had learnt so much but felt it was time for a new chapter and decided to move on. When I was leaving my boss of very little words told me "Alice", "you'll do it, you will go far." These words have been my driving force and stuck with me every day since. From the start I had always been honest and told them that I wanted my own bakery one day so, to hear those words from someone who was already eat, sleep and breathing the Bakery dream was a massive boost of confidence.
If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have spent half as much time worrying about not having the best grades at school. I look back and for me, school was a time where I got to see my friends every day. I probably should have taken it a bit more seriously and tried a bit harder but I now realise for me none of it mattered. No one has ever asked me what grade I got or told me I can't do something because I didn't pass it in school or I don't have a degree in it. I believe you will get to where you want to be by hard work and determination and for me that was working a five day week, college one day a week and making celebration cakes for people in any spare time I had just to earn a little more money. I do believe it's a lot easier to do when there is a goal at the end and I know we've all had dreams and aspirations of where we've wanted to end up. I haven't gone down the route that most 20-year olds have by going to Uni by getting myself a degree but I don't feel any worse off or that I missed out on a Uni life. For me I quite like the fact my story is a little bit different and I have well and truly worked from the bottom up. It also makes you appreciate all the little jobs people don't seem to think matter.