Thursday, 31 March 2011

The electric milk float

The Electric milk float. I had a three wheeler version like the animation and they are ideal for nipping in and out of tight parking spaces.

They were very heavy because they had batteries not just under the seat but under the chassis as well. The front cabin was just a flimsy fibre glass shell so if something hit you head on you did not stand a chance. The back was a different matter all together, I have told you that my dad reversed one through a heavy set of oak gates and hardly noticed and I had something similar happen to me. My normal float had gone in for a service and I had been given a replacement. This was a longer than my normal float and the back extended a lot further over the back wheels. I actually forgot about this and when doing a U turn in the road managed to knock down a barrier outside a school, it was early in the morning and fortunately no kids were around.

In bad weather they could slowly chug through deep snow but the big problem was that the single front wheel would not steer and trying to go round a corner was a nightmare. You had no heating, no doors so you would get very cold at times. These floats would be charged up over night and most of them would only just manage to get back to the dairy on a single charge so if the weather was icy and you got a fair bit of wheel spin the chances were that you would run out of electricity. With no mobile phones in those days you would have to find a public telephone or ask a customer to ring the dairy and they would normally bring out a petrol van for you to finish the round. The one advantage to this was that the milk float was towed back to the dairy and you did not have the job of unloading the empty bottles on return as it was done for you.

Driving one was a little strange as well because you did not just press the start pedal. You pressed it once until it started to move, then lifted the pedal slightly and pressed down again, something that came easy with practice. Because they were so bloody slow you had to continuously keep looking in the rear mirror to see what was approaching from behind, a habit that has stayed with me even when driving a car.

Oh it was so nice after finishing your round to chug back to the dairy, one foot on the start pedal and one foot resting on the bulkhead and the best time to enjoy a cigarette, yes I did smoke, it was the days when smoking was inexpensive and the health problems were not apparent. Smoking nearly killed me after I had finished a round one day. The last call was up a long lane that had a vicarage and a church a few cottages and one my way back down this lane you could get up a good speed, probably all of twenty miles an hour and it was an ideal time to light up a fag. This particular day I could not find any and as I gathered speed tried to get a new packet from the locker behind me. As I did so the milk float wandered onto the grass verge, it was raining heavily and that bloody front steering wheel refused to steer and I ended up going into the ditch at the side of the round, milk float on its side and broken milk bottles everywhere. A public telephone was just around the corner and as I was unhurt rang the dairy to be rescued. I was in shock I suppose because I sat back in the cabin with rain pissing in one door and out the other. I found a fag lit it up and at that moment the vicar pulled up alongside in his car, wound down the window and asked if I needed help.I cheerfully replied everything was fine and he went on his way. It was a later date that I found out that the vicar had advised people not use the Unigate milkman because he was a complete loony.

Friday, 25 March 2011

An old milkman

As you may know from previous postings my father was also a milkman. At a very early age I can remember him going off to work very early in the morning and returning early afternoon. He always smelt of tobacco as he smoked about 30 cigarettes a day and I can still remember that distinctive smell of the leather money bag that all the milkman had. On Christmas day he would work and my brothers would get up early to help him with the milk delivery. I had to wait for his return to open the Christmas presents and in later life took my turn to help with milk delivery. These days milkman do not work Christmas day as they double up the milk delivery the day before. I can also remember the sadness in him when they took away his horse and gave him an electric milk float, all milkmen had a special relationship with their horse and it must have been a very sad day for them all. Of course you did not get milk from a supermarket then and it was expected that you got a milk delivery,whatever the weather and in the middle of a snowy winter he would start at 5 in the morning and return very late at night. He was a very keen union man and when he worked for a private dairy formed a union and became shop steward. Suddenly I had many new uncles as they used to meet in our house and would call each other brother. The dairy decided that they did not want a union and locked out all those who were part of it, but unions had some power in those days and they stopped the delivery of milk so the union had to be accepted.

Dogs, they can be the curse of a milkman and I have always said that the small snappy dogs can be the worst. Dad had a delivery, one pint a day and he used to walk up a long path to the front door. He said that many mornings a small viscous dog would try and bite his ankles. After many attacks by this little dog he lost his cool, swung the milk bottle and caught the dog under the jaw. The dog howled and ran back to the house and the woman of the house came to door asking what he had done to her little baby, of course dad was all innocent and denied anything. We delivered bread in those days and one day when I was him he discovered that he had forgotten to order an uncut brown loaf for a customer. He dived into the back of the goods locker and brought out a really stale one that should have been thrown away. He sat on it, punched it and softened it up and then delivered it. He told me that the next day the customer had complained that when she went slice it, it was hollow inside.

He was a loveable rogue and not the best of drivers, in his time he reversed through a pair of oak gates, not knowing that they had been shut. A heavy electric milk float loaded with milk and many massive batteries really does take some stopping. He parked on a hill, jumped out and forgot to put the handbrake on and the float ran down to the bottom of the hill and smashed every single milk bottle. He said that there was a river of milk flowing down the road. He had a reputation for being a bad driver and one day he came across one of his customers crying because someone had driven into her parked car and badly dented it and driven off without notify her. He said “don’t worry” and drove the milk float into her car so that she could claim from the dairy for the damage. With his driving record it presented no problem.

He eventually became a supervisor, which basically meant he would cover for milkmen on their day off or sickness and he used to cover my round. At one time the diary had over ordered on tins of biscuits and as they were fast approaching sell by date was offering them at a special price. He let it be known that my round had some special tins of biscuits that had fallen off the back of a lorry at a very special price. The first I knew about this was when the housewives from a police housing complex said that they did not care if they were knocked off and could they have some. In all I must have broken all records for selling biscuits and earned a nice little bonus.

Sadly all the cigarettes he smoked eventually got the better of him and in late life he developed emphysema and needed constant oxygen supply. He never lost his sense of humour and on one visit to see him in hospital he said that the man in the bed opposite had died and had left a nice pair of shoes under the bed and could my son (He was about ten at the time) go and get them for him. I had to stop him but could not help laughing

The last time I saw him he was sitting up in bed in hospital and as I was leaving I shook his hand and looked him the eyes. I think we both knew that was the last we would see each other in this world and I told Dot this as we left. He died soon afterwards. I lost a very dear friend and a fantastic dad but like to think that if there is a next world he is back delivering milk with his horse and cart and that the weather is forever sunny.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Are you getting enough?

When I first started as a milkman my dad was my trainer. To say he was a character is an understatement. I had been brought up in Deptford, South East London and when I was eleven the old bill had decided to do him for receiving. He did three months porridge in Brixton which he actually seemed to enjoy. Now to many children at that age having a father in prison would have been a subject of derision at school. Not in my case, I suddenly became one of the lads as this was considered part of the norm. He was a brilliant milkman and taught me all the wrinkles involved with this job. You could see that the housewives loved his warmth and sense of humour and I was very flattered when many would say how much like him I was. He showed me that by talking to your customers and explaining what special promotions and what the milkman could win by selling extra goods worked a lot better than any special sales patter. I would get comments like ”We are getting fed up with rice puddings and all milk coffees, have you won anything on that milk promotion yet”

In all I managed to win a shirt for every day of the week on a bread promotion, a weekend in Rome for milk promotion, some clothing from Burtons and a lot of little cash bonuses for many other smaller promotions. “Watch out watch out a Humphrey is about” and “are you getting enough?” (Milk) where a couple of the promotion campaigns I remember. You had to be very careful who you said “Are you getting enough” to but dad seemed to get away with saying to them all.
While training me my dad would get up to a few tricks and his favourite one was with a deaf and rather cantankerous women who sometimes used to collect her milk from her gate. She could lip read so dad used to turn his back to me and make some of the rudest comments imaginable. Once I had been trained and got to know this woman she informed me that she was to have an operation on one ear and hoped to be able to hear again. She had the operation and it worked. Several months later my dad had to come out with me and check on my progress and make sure I knew the job. On that day this women came to her gate and dad tried his old trick, back turned and used some the worst language imaginable. “Pardon milkman, what did you just say” spoken in a very surprised posh accent still rings in my ears

Friday, 11 March 2011

Does a milkman get propositioned

I was a milkman for 6 years in all and yes they do occasionally get chatted up. I had one call that I used to collect money from very early on a Saturday morning and she always answered the door naked except for a see through baby doll nightie. It was not a pleasant site as she was about 50 and I was in my late twenties. The way she looked at me was reminiscent of a cougar eying up its prey. I was married to my second wife Dot at this time and she sometimes used to come out on the milk round with me so on this particular Saturday I asked her to collect the money for me. I sat in the milk float having a quite chuckle to myself and laughed out loud when she returned calling me every name imaginable, Dot has a good vocabulary of spicy language and she must have used every word she knew. I had another very nice couple, they were about my age, husband and wife and I would have a nice chat with them when I collected money on a Saturday afternoon. One Saturday I knocked and she answered the door semi naked. She was a big girl, really big, and would have eaten me alive. She said “My husband is not here today”. I must have coughed and spluttered and mumbled something like “your bill is 84 pence” and I remember almost running back up the garden path.
Perhaps the strangest and most difficult to deal with was when I called back to a pub to collect the money. I always went round the back to the kitchen for it. As I was waiting this giant of a barman minced in, looked me up and down with a wicked glint in his eye and said “Would you like a drink” I took a step backwards and said “No thank you”. “Would you like a cup of coffee then” Another step backwards and “No thank you” from me. “How about a drink of milk… Oh silly me… you are a milkman” he said and minced off. The kitchen staff were in fits of laughter at my reactions.
In between marriages I had the pleasure of being friendly with a very attractive and sexy girl. So sexy that a friend used to fantasise that she was in bed with him when making love to his wife. (They were a very open couple and she used to imagine he was someone else too, I did not blame her) On my milk round I had discovered a fantastic country pub with some amazing country walks close by. This young lady agreed to accompany me on a visit to the pub one day (this was the milkman making a proposition) and afterwards we walked hand in hand up into the hills on a warm summer’s day. I gently laid her down on the grass and gave her a gentle lingering kiss. I was in heaven. As I Iooked down at her she glanced up at me and said “oooh I can see all the hairs up your nose” In a split second everything was deflated… literally. I let my friend have his fantasies, I have none

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The special girls on my milk round

As a milkman I had four hundred customers and most of them were housewives. As a young milkman I suppose it was inevitable that I was going to get some sort of chat up lines and suggestions from them. It was not like the films and most Milkmen I knew were not jumping in and out of customers beds. I really did not have many temptations, it always seemed to be the middle aged woman that chatted me up or wanted help to move some furniture in the bedroom and I easily resisted. My special girls were the really old ones who always seemed to appreciate a visit from the milkman, have a chat and share a cup of tea. One I used to pour the milk into a jug, another always had a jigsaw on the go and one even gave me some broken alarm clocks as a Christmas present for the kids, God Bless her. Part of my round was sheltered accommodation for the elderly. I delivered early in the morning and would call back once a week after delivery to collect the money. They lived in flats and the doors opened onto a shared pathway. On my first call backs I would knock on a door, wait patiently as the customer shuffled to the door. It would open and she would say “Oh it’s the milkman, wait a moment I will get your money”. It took for ever and a day to collect from each call. On my second call back I decided to walk along the path and knock on every door and stand in sight until the first door opened. How they loved that and it also gave them an opportunity to talk to each other. I am sure they looked forward to my weekly visit after that.

I had one special lady who became a good friend. After I had finished I would always call in, have a cup of tea count up my money and check my books. Of course the milk float would be outside her house for some time, but all the milkman including my father who had worked on this round had always done the same thing. I found out many years afterwards that Sophie my first wife had been tracking my activities and had been following my milk float and thought something different was going on. Had she cared to knock on the door she would have found me chatting to Babs, her husband and two rugby playing sons.

As for the young ravishing twenty years old, I delivered to some, but never had any special offers.