Baking for the bus

by julie

Today (well last night to be exact) I baked for strangers. I posted up on Facebook that this was my intention and several friends suggested I bake for friends instead. In handing out my tracts the ideas and writing have so far remained abstract. I am reading Alain De Botton’s Religion for Atheists at the minute and some of the suggestions appeal to me but I am sure that many will remain just that, suggested rather than acted upon.

I have worked a lot previously with my journeys on the bus, knitting regularly to spark conversations and allowing the conversation to dictate the pattern I knit. This felt very strange at first and always remained one step removed from just talking to people or striking up conversations. With this latest tract ‘A love of Baking’ I wanted to push myself and my work into action. This may sound strange as for weeks I have been giving out tracts on the street but again this is a passive activity and allows me to explain as much or as little as I like. I am not concerned if my work is perceived as art or research or both or something else entirely but I am concerned that my actions follow my writings.

A while ago I photographed a plum and Ferrero Rocher given to me by someone on the bus. The action of giving something to a stranger seemed so odd and I have to admit I did not eat either thing. So would my action face the same bewilderment? I began thinking about baking for strangers some time ago but lacked the confidence to do it. What would people think, that I was crazy? I wanted an action that brought us together in the moment of our bus journey but that would leave people still comfortable.

Last night I baked two trays of buns and wrapped each one individually in cling-film, put them in a tin and made my way to the bus. At the stop I was soon joined by a lady and saw the perfect opportunity to test the action. I offered a chocolate chip bun and the lady accepted and shared a story about her Church baking yesterday for Fair trade, how closely baking and charity are linked is something that interests me and I was surprised how quickly this came up. We chatted about the ladies doctors appointment and her plans for lunch and on getting on the bus it felt natural to start offering the buns to the passengers. I offered the driver a bun as I got my ticket and his surprise really cheered me on, two older ladies on the bus were busy trying to see what I was doing and as I turned to them they laughed saying they were being nosey. I offered them a bun each and a tract and one of the ladies read the tract aloud. referring to it as a verse which for me echoes the way we would talk about traditional tracts.

As I moved up the bus the other passengers seemed to trust my action having seen other people accept the offer, people began to talk to each other about how things like this never happen one woman said it really cheers you up and that today she had really needed cheered up. Many passengers refused the offer, one because the bun would be squashed in her bag, another because he was diabetic and several for reasons they did not share but I would hazard a guess by their facial expressions that they did not trust a stranger bearing gifts. Several people asked what I was collecting for and seemed genuinely surprised when I explained that I just like baking.

I had planned to get the bus early around 9 but I didn’t want to be on a bus with more people than I had buns for and also I did not feel comfortable offering buns to children traveling to school on their own. I have no children but I am not sure how I would feel if I did and they arrived home to tell me a strange lady had given them a bun on their way to school. I became really aware that as I call myself an artist I granted myself the confidence to do this action but also that confidence comes from being young (ish) and female. How would the same action be perceived if the giver was older and male? I do not have an answer but I really believe that as I was younger than the majority of people who accepted buns this did play a part. Those that refused were all my age or younger.

As my interest lies in gifts I feel it is important to recognise that once again the gift at first appears to be from me but as in giving out my tracts the bigger gift is the acceptance of the receiver. I am not under any illusion that I can brighten up the word with a few buns, or that those that accept get anything more than I do from the exchange but I hope I am right in saying there was a feeling of tiny celebration for a short moment with the passengers on the number 19 bus this morning.