Saturday, 18 February 2012

On The Social Importance of Milk Bottles

Adrian went on holiday from Blogland.  It was partly because he was having a good time and partly because in The English Lake District broadband cover is sparse and erratic.  However it is evident that some of his friends were concerned:  probably because he's a mildly eccentric and very likeable chap (not that I'd ever tell him that).

The absence made me think about milk bottles.  Some of my readers may know what they are and remember the days (before refrigerators - which unlike fridges don't have a d) when they were delivered daily to the doorstep.  It's still possible to have milk delivered on Lewis although I suspect it's very rare nowadays.

When you went on holiday one of the first things you did was cancel the milk (and the newspapers).  Obviously you didn't want a load of sour milk to accumulate nor could one generally afford the luxury of waste in those days.

If you didn't cancel the milk and it accumulated the milkman or the postie would be concerned and would tell the neighbours.  Neighbours would usually know if you were on holiday.  If you weren't - or they didn't think you were - then they would immediately be concerned and raise the alarm.

Thus might the humble milk bottle have been your saviour.

This made me think how vulnerable we are in modern society if we live alone.  After Mum died I used to phone her 93 year old brother (who lived about 550 miles away from Lewis in Anglesey) every night.  He was a bit reclusive.  One night he didn't answer the phone.  After a couple of hours I got in touch with a neighbour.  He had had a stroke and was on the floor a few feet from the phone and unable to reach it - it might as well have been a million miles away.  Had he had the stroke after the phone call instead of before it then it would have been 24 hours before he'd have been discovered.  If I'd missed an evening for some reason then my next call may well have been too late.

He was, however, an exceptionally methodical man and if he'd had milk delivered and had not taken the milk bottle in that day then it would have been noticed by the evening.

Thus might the humble milk bottle have been his saviour.

Of course the story of the humble milk bottle, though real enough, is simply allegorical of the issues that face us in a society that lets one in three people over the age of 60 go a whole week without speaking to anyone at Christmas (according to figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics).

Makes you think!


  1. Me? Eccentric?.....Barking mad I am.

    1. and that's the way I like you! eccentric = interesting

  2. One in three above 60? That's the trouble with statistics, isn't it; how much do they really portray people's daily lives?
    My parents are 68 and 70. Apart from speaking to each other (which they do all day), they both have very active social lives. I can not imagine my mother to NOT speak :-)
    No milk bottles over here, but the house where my flat is in has very thin walls, and if I did not hear my neighbours for a few days, I'd be glad instead of worried, I guess. Then again, none of them is old and/or frail.

  3. The milk bottles delivered to the door are (were) so typically British. I don't they ever had that system here. I do remember milk in actual glass bottles from my early childhood though, but I'm sure they were bought in a shop. I also remember going with my maternal grandfather to a nearby farm where they lived to get milk 'fresh from the cow' in a tin milk can.

    The only people I 'talk' to daily are on the internet. I can go for days without actually talking (by voice) to anyone without even reflecting over it much. Take away my internet connection though and I go nuts within the hour!

  4. Glass bottles full of milk - memories from childhood.

    Did you ever open the door on a cold and frosty morning and find that the silver (or gold top if you liked it creamy), had been pecked away and the top inch of milk had been devoured by the Robin or Blackbird - whichever had got there first.

    And then of course there was the horrible warm third of a pint of milk that you had to drink at School break time - no wonder I cannot stand to drink milk!

    Thank you for the memories Graham. Love x

  5. My curtains are the modern equivalent of the milk bottle. I have a fond memory of a young (21 yr old) neighbour who was in a state of panic about my bedroom curtains being closed all weekend. He'd even had the local policeman at the house banging on doors. Luckily the cop decided to wait till Monday in case I'd just gone away for the w/end. Which, of course, I had. I had to promise to never forget the curtains again and opening the curtains is one of the first things I've done every morning since.

    As a child there were so many of us kids the milkman delivered 11 bottles of milk daily. The clattering the milkman made picking up 11 empties and putting down the full bottles was such an annoyance to my father he insisted we get a crate which held a dozen bottles each day. Made the milkman happy, kept Dad happy and the kids happy too.

    Oh, Northland is one of the trial areas for Fonterra's milk in schools programme. Gone are the days when the milk was left under a tree, frigs are being installed. It will be interesting to see how many modern children actually like milk with all the flavoured and fizzy options they have these days. Georgia can't wait!

  6. I hadn't thought about that added benefit to having milk delivered. Of course, when it was like that here in Indiana, I was a young mother. With only one car and that was kept busy by my husband (lucky to be a stay-at-home mom), I was thankful to have both milk and bread (from the Omar Man) delivered.
    I don't worry about it constantly, but I am thankful for my youngest son who keeps tabs on me regularly. Americans made fun of the old TV commercial that ran with the line, "I've fallen and I can't get up." But the day I fell in my bathtub and was injured, I had a hard time getting up and out of the tub. Definitely not something to laugh about.
    I do have fond memories of the bottles that had cream floating in the top section over the milk. One mixed it when it arrived in the home. (I loved cream when I was a kid.)

  7. We can still have milk delivered but supermarket prices and the advantages of long-life milk mean we don't. The milkman still makes his deliveries in our road so someone is till giving him the business but for how much longer I can't imagine. I think it may be local businesses that help him survive as most of the shops have milk bottles on the doorstep first thing in the morning.

    I suspect the Christmas period was chosen for the statistic because that is when most caring service visits are at their least frequent. The woman opposite us, for example, had a daily care service and when we saw no one visit over Christmas we assumed she had gone into a care home for a while (as she did occasionally). It turned out she hadn't. They were simply short-staffed over the holidays and she had agreed her need was less than that of others...

  8. I meant to say, Spesh, there was a whole study done on the spread of Blue Tit cream pecking which showed how it gradually spread over the whole country from the very first recorded example until it became a national phenomenon. Fascinating stuff.

  9. I have mixed feelings about milk deliveries. IN a way it is nice to have people call on the house regularly, and that contact with other human beings is so important. In another way it was such a nuisance, I never had the right money when he called, and sometimes I wanted a lot of milk, sometimes not so much. I miss the hiss and rattle of the milk float outside the window though.

  10. We used to have milk delivered to our homes until five years ago, there was a farm nearby but it was sold. We miss the luxury nowadays :( And of course the first thing to do before trips would be to cancel the milk and newspapers :))

  11. A wonderful post.. and full of memories.
    The milkman is sorely missed by me..

  12. Great post. Took me back to the early-morning sound of the milkman gently clanking the bottles in their crates at the end of the street. Such a reassuring sound, that I thought would always be there.

  13. I lived next door to a milkman in York, but instead of the traditional float he delivered the milk using a pick-up truck. We do see milk floats here occasionally, but I guess they are in decline everywhere.

  14. Oh and remember the little milk bottles at school ? It was the milk monitors duty to stick the straw through the foil top at break time.
    On special days there would be a digestive biscuit or a malted milk (with the picture of the cow on) to eat with it.

  15. Thank you everyone for your comments. It's fascinating what a little memory jog will do and the results have been so interesting. Yes I do remember the milk tops being pecked through - I think the Robins got the blame in our house. And yes Jenny there was always that note to be left in the empties for 'one more' or 'none today'. I can ever remember that our milkman was Mr Sowerby of Sowerby's Farm and that at one stage he had a cream Commer Van. Just don't ask me what day it is today.

  16. I had trouble reaching Grandad last night on the phone. In the end it turned out that 'bath night' was delayed (usually a Saturday!), and that was why I couldn't get hold of him. He has a care alarm, with a pendant that he carries around and a button he can push in an emergency. But a better system would require him to push a button at regular intervals (at least once a day) and then we'd know for sure he was okay. I think I might suggest this to age concern who run the electronic care system.

    He does get a few regular calls during the week, but for some reason everyone else calls at the weekend. His generation in particular won't risk the expense of a weekend call regardless of how often you explain their price plan to them.

    I seem to remember that he stopped having milk delivered because in this neighbourhood it would just get stolen if you didn't get it in before 7am.