I remember getting my first bike aged 4; a red and blue machine with stabilisers. I grew out of it quickly but money was tight so I had to walk until my 8th birthday. Then I got my next one which was bought second hand for £7. It was really heavy, had no gears and curious brakes that operated with metal bars instead of cables and I painted it bright blue. I remember dad teaching me to ride it in our back garden.
Having a bike meant freedom; my mates and I had a large scale map of Guildford on which we proceeded to draw the boundaries of our imaginary kingdom on each time we returned from a faraway adventure. We could be gone from early morning till dusk, parking our bikes in distant woodlands and playing ‘war’ or Hide N’ Seek. I don’t remember us ever taking sandwiches or drinks as we lived on fresh air and exuberance.
My best friend Paul Cox and I used to earn a decent living helping the local Unigate milkman with his deliveries. Saturdays and holidays we would jump in the cab or perch on the back of the float at the beginning of his round and zoom off. The milkman smoked fags whilst he pootled along giving instructions to his two nimble assistants for what was required at each doorstep. This was in the days of Corona (every bubble’s passed its fizzical) and we would each be rewarded by a litre bottle of whatever we fancied. Cream Soda was my preferred tipple in those days yet now my stomach churns at the thought of all the sugar and goodness knows what else that I glugged down.
The prestige of the milkman reached a nadir in the 70s; Unigate discovered that the Humphreys were stealing people’s milk and came up with the slogan ‘watch out watch out there’s a Humphrey about!’ Telly adverts starring Muhammed Ali, Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Rod Hull warned us kids about the milk snatchers that wanted our milk. We in turn went mad for the free red and white bendy straws, badges, stickers and other Humphrey paraphernalia we could lay our hands on. Being Unigate helpers of course put us first in line for the freebies.
Pencil cases, lunch boxes, exercise books, bedroom doors, bedroom furniture, bikes and of
course the kitchen fridge. Nowhere was safe from the scourge of the Humphrey sticker. The straws were used to drink anything much to the annoyance of parents across Britain as no child can resist blowing for bubbles.
In 1970 Ernie was the fastest milkman in the west, Benny Hill wrote the song in 1955 as a tribute to his time as a milkman on a horse drawn cart in Eastleigh Hampshire. The lyric ‘he galloped into Market Street’ probably happened as the street does exist. He performed the song on the Benny Hill Show; it was later released as a single becoming the 1971 Christmas number 1 and staying there for 4 weeks. Two Ton Ted the bread delivery man was Ernie’s love rival for the widow Sue and they had a ‘wild west’ style shoot out with Ernie being killed by a combination of a well-aimed rock cake to the heart and stale pork pie in the eye. Ernie the milkman went to heaven where deliveries are made to angels and ferocious dogs are banned. Two Ton Ted married Sue but Ernie came back to haunt them on their honeymoon with the ghostly rattling of his milk bottles.
On Desert Island Discs in 2006, the then Tory Party leader and now Prime Minister David Cameron picked the song as one of his 8 favourite records.
Although I enjoyed delivering the white stuff, I stopped drinking milk at a young age. The dreaded ¼ pint bottle of free school milk did it for me as it was always warm and tasted horrid. I came home from school for lunch one day aged 10 and refused the glass that was offered, telling my mum I didnt like milk anymore. Nesquik however created a whole new ball park as mixing the stuff with water looked and tasted foul. So I could be persuaded sometimes to drink the dreaded cow juice. Banana was my favourite but in emergencies Strawberry or Chocolate would do.
Although the Labour Govt stopped free milk for secondary school kids in 1968; it was Margaret Thatcher who gained the nickname the ‘milk snatcher’ for stopping free school milk for 7 to 11 year olds in 1971 For her huge act of kindness I will be forever in her debt!