Saturday, 11 February 2012

"Snow use crying about spilt milk" they say: so we didn't. In fact, we were quite amused to see an inch of ice-cream poking out of the top of our milk bottles this snowy, frosty morning. 

When I was a kid, everyone had their milk delivered to their doorstep. Bread was also delivered in the same way, but by a different company. The milkman would usually come from the dairy in a quiet, electric milk-float, although I remember going to Edinburgh where the milk was delivered on a rubber-tired cart pulled by a horse, wearing socks so that he didn't wake us up. 

At school we all had 1/3 of a pint of bottled milk a day to help us grow strong, healthy bones and teeth and make us look handsome. A dairy diet  certainly worked for the Dutch but we also ate 6 pence worth of sugary sweets a day. I still have the bones, but not the teeth.  In reality it was a scam to prop up the National Farmers Union who  had a hot line to government and we even had a state sponsored Milk Marketing Board. Imagine that today! (It was actually a good thing for small farmers who only had a dozen cows. Now you have to have a hundred to break even.) We also had cod-liver oil capsules, but I can't remember why! Maybe it was a way to get rid of surplus livers from the fish-and-chip industry?

The small, glass milk bottles came in wire crates that were stacked at the school gate where dogs peed on them and then the milk froze; at least it did in winter. Miss Dunn would bring our crates indoors and warm them by the big, pot-bellied stove in our classroom. Sometimes the bottles were still frozen at break-time, and at other times they were deliciously warm. We had competitions to see who could glug them down in one go.

Now it's unusual to have you milk or bread delivered but in Brampton we still have a delivery service, every other day. The rounds are very long because there are less customers, so an electric float just won't cover the distance. At about 3 a.m. the milkman pulls up in a diesel van with a megaphone exhaust and then crunches his way up our gravel drive to clang the bottles down outside our door. Perhaps he's making a point: we are always weeks behind in paying him. Maybe he hopes we will open the door and say "Hi, come in and have a beer!" In reality, I have no idea what he or she looks like. It must be a thankless job and cheques are on their way out. How will we pay him?

The Co-op used a token scheme: You bought blue, plastic tokens from the shop and then, if you left out four tokens, you received four pints of milk. They had different tokens for bread. 

Today, we had four pints delivered that froze and expanded, pushing the foil top off, so that an inch or more of ice-cream stuck out the top. We brought them inside and the rapid change in temperature shattered the glass on one of the bottles. I'll just have to drink wine instead.

It's a shame that glass bottles on the doorstep are so much a thing of the past because the birds used to love them. From the 1920's onwards, blue tits, great tits and some robins learnt to steal milk. In the 1950s they were briefly "foiled" by the introduction of foil caps, but they soon learnt to peck a hole in them and get the cream. They even learnt that the gold-topped bottles had more cream and went for them first! The habit was widespread in the UK but I guess it has died out. My bottles are never attacked in this way.