Age: Milkmen – and they pretty much were all men back in those days – first showed up in Britain in around about 1860 to deliver fresh milk to people’s doorsteps.
Appearance: Early, cheerful, most probably whistling. Possibly horny.
Excuse me! Oh, I see, you mean the cows from which the milk originally comes? No, sorry, it’s just a reputation they had for lasciviousness, and a silly thing people used to say in, like, the 1970s. So if a kid had, say, red hair, and neither of its parents did, you’d go: “Yeah, but the milkman does, boom boom.” Benny Hill, who used to actually be a milkman, is probably to blame.
Benny Hill? What was he after being a milkman? Don’t worry about it – he’s cancelled.
The 1970s sound hilarious. No, they were grim. But the early morning whirr of an electric milk float, and the rattle and clink of glass bottles was one of the few good things about the decade. It was an urban dawn chorus.
And why are we talking about these early risers now, in 2021? Because they’re back! Milkmen, milkpeople, even some milkwomen, too?
Milkmaids? No, they’re different. And fictional, from a book about country life by Margaret Atwood.
Presumably milkmen went away at some point, then? Oh yeah, that first. So the supermarkets started to sell milk, in cartons, then plastic bottles, and it was cheaper than the milk left on your doorstep. The milkman went from handling almost all milk sales in 1970 to less than 5% in 2020.
And the resurgence? We’re not talking 70s levels, but it went from 527,000 customers to a peak of 716,000 during the first lockdown, settling at around 672,000, according to the Times.
And that’s the reason, Covid? Cowvid … Stop it. Yes, directly and indirectly. It was a lifeline for some people who couldn’t or wouldn’t go shopping. There’s also a nice nostalgia to it. Plus you can give yourself a big green tick – milk delivered in reusable bottles, by electric vehicle … though ours comes just in a regular van.
You have yours delivered? Proudly one of the 672,000.
Is it more expensive? Well yes, a bit. And it’s hard to get the quantity right. Sometimes we have a fridgeful, but’s that’s OK because we can make yoghurt, or rice pudding. And sometimes we don’t have enough and have to pop out to the corner shop to get some. But otherwise it’s brilliant.
Do say: “One extra pint today please, Ernie.”
Don’t say: “One extra pint today please, Ernie, if you know what I mean – ’im indoors is on the nightshift …”