Doing the rounds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am

Up at the crack of dawn one morning, I pulled open the blinds and thought I must still be dreaming. It couldn't be. But it was. There, on the road: a milk float.

I thought they had died out with newspaper delivery rounds - a victim of plastic packaging, supermarket expansion and the Thatcherite drive for efficiency.

Memories flooded back; after all, the milkman has a special place in every Briton's heart. At least he does for those old enough to remember doorstep deliveries.

Once, I even dreamed of being a milkman. In the good old days, it was a well-paid job. It had to be: who else would get up at 4am in all weather conditions to carry bottled milk from door to door, while wearing an apron and peaked cap?

But there were fringe benefits. Milkmen, along with window cleaners, had a hint of glamour and were synonymous with illicit sex: they often called to collect the weekly bill when the husband was at work, and housewives, according to folklore, would answer the door wearing only a negligee and a sultry smile.

It spawned such phrases as: 'It was when you were just a glint in the milkman's eye' - meaning something that happened before you were born.

Then there were the very generous tips at Christmas. Quite why people tipped, I'll never know. In summer, the milk was often warm by the time you took it in; in winter, it was frozen.

And if you weren't quick enough, the birds would peck through the foil top, often leaving their own calling card down the side of the bottle. Lovely.

Other unsavoury memories include my mother's only car crash - when she pulled out of a side road as a milk float tried to overtake an elderly cyclist. The cyclist wasn't hurt, thankfully, but a few pints of milk didn't make it to the door that day.

So, why was a milk float plying the roads of Hackney, east London, at 5.30am? Well, it seems that the milk round is making a comeback, as urbanites demand a return to the days of yesteryear. After all, if you can have a pizza or organic vegetables delivered, why not a 'pinta', with some fresh bread and fruit juice?

It may be down to an initiative by Dairy UK, the new voice of the dairy industry, which has just launched an internet service allowing residents in cities - where the milk round has all but disappeared - to place their orders online. Some 45 per cent of Britons' milk was delivered by milkmen 10 years ago, now it's down to just 10 per cent.

Personally, I won't be taking up the service. For one, my door opens right on to the street, and the local ragamuffins would no doubt steal it. Plus, I don't want my memories to turn sour.