Breakfast was a word I learnt in school and it was something that only characters in the picture books enjoyed. Breakfast at home was a cup of rough black coffee, so bitter that every morning, I managed to down only a third and poured the rest down the drain. We could not afford sugar, and milk too remained in the picture books.

One morning, my neighbour, a bachelor by the name of Jack, asked if I would go down to the bakery and buy his breakfast – buns filled with coconut shavings and brown sugar – a heavenly treat.

The children up and down the length of the street knew Jack as a generous soul. He worked in the naval dockyards and had a bicycle, his mode of transport to work and everywhere else. He rented a room, lived by himself and always had a kind word for us urchins.

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*** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2011 ***


  1. My childhood was poor as well, but we lived in small farming communities and so there was not so much a lack of food as a lack of other things. When I was very young my father was a farmer. Mainly he grew peanuts and watermelons, but there was a garden and some animals for our own food. Rice, of course, would not grow where we lived; it was one of the more expensive cereals you could buy. Corn was cheap and sometimes wheat. We had cornbread a lot, and I still like it. The generation before my parents, everyone baked their own bread, but in my parents generation it was the sign of prosperity to buy factory bread and so that is what they did. Whether you were prosperous or not, you buy bread rather than baking it, though when I did taste real homemade bread as an adult I realized how deceived we had all been, buying very poor quality bread to show we were quality people. But pretending to prosperity didn’t last long. My father went broke on the farm, had to sell it and get a job, so we moved to the city. All he ever wanted to do was to be a farmer, but it was not to be.
    We did drink coffee like you did, though ours was not so strong. Even there the delusion of the times cheated us: you were supposed to buy instant coffee. I didn’t know better until I was an adult that sometimes the benefits of technology and mass production are not really benefits.
    Kudos to you for saying “no thanks” against all your desires. Your parents raised you well.

    1. Thank you for this sharing. I truly appreciate this.

      Yes, ‘progress’ is not always what it is made out to be. ‘Efficiency’ (read, profit) and ‘expedience’ (read, impatience) are seductive words with ever growing adherents…

  2. Oh yes, fortunately coffee and sugar was always readily available for us and everyone can down a whole tea-pot and ask for more. Right – bread was luxury those days – only get them maybe once a month if there are spare cash to go after marketing, not to mention one with fillings inside. No wonder bread taste like heaven back then.

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