Milking it

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Of the many things that supermarkets have had a hand in – some good, some bad – one of the most significant, in purely sociological terms at least, must be the demise of the milk bottle

By Edan Ambrose

Hardly anyone now gets their milk delivered to the door. Price wars between the supermarket giants have screwed down the price of a pint to such a degree that it makes it almost impossible for a milk float to compete. Bad luck for dairy farmers who are losing roughly 6p for every litre they produce and bad luck for anyone who likes their milk to turn up in a recyclable glass bottle on the doorstep each morning – unless you work quite hard (or pay a lot more) to find an alternative, you’re stuck with plastic, pretty much.

Like most baby-boomers, I grew up with deliveries of milk. In Hampshire, ours turned up courtesy of Jeff who delivered pints of silver and gold top milk in bottles bearing the name of the farm printed in green, in a beat-up Landrover. The gold top was unpasteurized and came with a thick layer of yellow cream which my mother called ‘top-of’. The only other cream we ever saw was at Christmas when we collected pots of it from the farm dairy, leaving a note to say we’d taken it.

Since then I’ve always had my milk delivered – apart from a brief break while at university when even I could see that a daily milk delivery was not going to be practical. I’ve even continued to have it delivered in London, where I’ve lived in Wimbledon, Camberwell and Dulwich.

Indeed, moving last year from Dulwich (where one might expect a milkman to lurk) to Brixton (where one definitely wouldn’t) was a worrying step into the all-consuming maw of the supermarket, until I discovered that , astonishingly, Milk and More, once part of the milk-marketing board, now a dairy business, would deliver bottles of  milk  to gritty, red-routed Brixton Road.

My (semi-skimmed, pasteurized, glass-bottled) pint appears on alternate mornings, delivered by unseen hands (I’ve never met a milkman in London; the whole transaction is carried out via the medium of handwritten notes, cheques and a satisfying cycle of full and empty bottles), accompanied by the familiar whining noise of the float drawing to a halt, the clink of bottles and the stump of footsteps mounting the stone steps of a London terrace in the dawn light and then the rising crescendo as the float departs to who knows where. I’ve never seen another bottle on the Brixton road. Maybe I’m the only person in SW9 who has milk delivered to the door…

And doorstep milk is one of the few things that never gets stolen, either; it’s like a throw-back to a distant, kinder age of social interaction based on honesty and trust. I know that if my milk bottles begin piling up on the doorstep, my unseen milkman will raise the alarm, for instance, so I’m thrilled that Milk and More still delivers its milk; I hope that they’ll continue to do so, and maybe they will, for milk deliveries are making a comeback – they’ve become not only hip and trendy, resulting in something of a renaissance in genus milkman but also fashionably green (recycled glass bottles) and ethical – doorstep deliveries come direct from dairies and therefore more money goes back to the farmer.

So, search out your local dairy and see if they deliver. Milk floats, like independent butchers, bakers and bookshops are potent symbols of how life ought to be…