A new start after 60: ‘I had a lightbulb moment: I'd be a baker’

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When Diana Holba turned 66, she sat down successful the canteen astatine enactment with pen and insubstantial to constitute “the implicit classical list: what bash I privation to do?”. By past she had been moving astatine the Environment Agency for astir 20 years and planned to discontinue successful a year. By “retire” she means “stop moving astatine full-employment-type thing”; she hates not being busy.

Anyhow, the reply written successful antithetic words connected each enactment of her database was “food, basically”. It is her longstanding love.

Over the pursuing year, Holba, who is present 73, cooked takeaways for postulation connected Friday nights from her location successful Aston, Hertfordshire. The queue was truthful agelong that her neighbour thought the assembly had installed a caller autobus stop.

She “saved each spot of that twelvemonth to bargain a catering oven and a classical breadstuff dough maker”. Before long, the breadstuff began to instrumentality over, and successful 2015 she attended “a gathering of bakers” organised by the Real Bread Campaign successful London. Arriving late, she recovered the lecture hallway full, and squeezed herself into a store “by default”: however to commencement a microbakery. For Holba, “It was the classical lightbulb moment. I was going to beryllium a baker.”

After a abbreviated people – 2 afloat days – and a mates of months practising astatine home, she began to merchantability loaves and herself became a breadstuff instructor, delivering classes from her kitchen. If that sounds fast, she says, “it was. But if I privation to bash thing I’ll bloody good bash it.”

Holba loves bread. “It’s 6,000-plus years old,” she says, “yet successful truthful galore countries, it’s the archetypal happening connected the table.” And past determination is the smell. Not truthful overmuch of the breadstuff retired of the oven, but of the dough itself. “It’s beautiful. It benignant of takes you somewhere.”

Diana Holba photographed successful  Bread Ahead, Borough Market, London.
Diana Holba photographed successful Bread Ahead, Borough Market, London. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

When she was a child, wealth was tight, and travel, oregon being taken “somewhere”, was not imaginable for Holba. Yet astatine the aforesaid time, she felt “very, precise rootless”. Although her puerility was happy, she didn’t consciousness astatine home, and grew a benignant of wired-in wanderlust. By 16, she had been “to 12 antithetic schools, lived successful 15 antithetic houses”. In each of them, determination was breadstuff connected the array – “a achromatic loaf, with a breadstuff knife, chopped into slices”.

At creation school, Holba met her aboriginal husband, Max, who is Polish, and her satellite enlarged. His begetter owned a delicatessen and astatine their household location determination was breadstuff connected the table, too, but this clip it was Polish rye. Holba thought Max’s parent “the astir astonishing cook. Her cooking opened the beingness for me.” She learned that nutrient could beryllium transporting.

When Holba became a parent successful her 20s – to 3 boys – Friday nights were taxable nights. Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Mexican: she cooked them all. “Although astatine the clip I was not good travelled myself” – she did not committee a level until she was 31 – “I was determined that my children would truly admit it,” she says.

This customized sounds similar a precursor to her Friday nighttime takeaway business, erstwhile she would inquire her customers, “Right, wherever are we going this week?” Maybe for Holba, breadstuff fused the wanderlust and the homeliness. “Just 4 ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt). But it’s truthful therapeutic. There is thing precise atavistic successful dough,” she says.

It has a transformative power, too. You tin bash “incredible things”, she says, with a basal achromatic dough – her favourite loaf. “People truly commencement to link with it. I haven’t had anybody successful my classes who hasn’t successful 1 mode oregon different changed their sentiment of themselves.”

So what astir Holba? How has breadstuff changed her? “I’m overmuch much confident,” she says immediately. She has precocious moved to Cambridgeshire, wherever she plans to get her breadstuff “out into the community” of Buckden adjacent spring. “Also,” she says, “I deliberation I’m astir apt happier. I consciousness … what’s the word? Fulfilled. To a acold greater degree.” It’s not that she antecedently felt unfulfilled, she insists. But breadstuff has leavened her ain capableness for fulfilment. “I’ve got a beingness skill. I’m learning, learning each the time.”