The Dairy Round

‘Nimbus 2’ by Elisabeth Grant**

It was a good friend who got me in. He was a bit older than me. For some time he had had a job after school hours. I was 13, or maybe had turned 14. My pal’s reference gave me the opportunity to inherit a milk round. Some other lad had moved on leaving a vacancy. So I became a milk delivery boy. It felt great to have a first job.

Traditionally delivering milk was an early morning activity. However due to our age there was a need to stay awake when in school. Therefore we did our deliveries Monday- Friday after school hours in the late afternoon. Saturday deliveries were double runs, covering for the Sunday as well. In contrast they were done very early in the morning, getting up I think about 4 a.m. The main good bit about that was anticipating going back to bed at the end of the round.

For this six day a week part- time work I got paid the princely sum of 19 shillings and six pence. This was in the days of the UK old non-decimal money. Pounds, shillings and pence which changed to the metric system in 1971. In today’s money my pay equated to a mere £0.98. I remember feeling a bit miffed that I did not earn over a pound (20 shillings). These earnings were reserved for the older milk boys who got 25 shillings (£1.25) for the same job. Age discrimination.

Equipment was basic. A hand pushed, rickety, 2 wheeled steel wheelbarrow. This was used to cart milk around the streets near the dairy in the south side of Glasgow. My round was to deliver the dairy requirements of 60-70 households on my route. It took about 50 mins or so after school each day. Saturdays of course took longer with the heavier load of a double delivery.

Ordinary milk, full cream milk and cream were all transported by hand to peoples houses. Milk was either in glass bottles or cartons. There was recycling even in those days as we picked up people’s empty bottles from their doorsteps. Who got their milk in glass and who got cartons was, as I recall, based on the preferences of customers. I think the customers paid the dairy direct. There were perks to the job as we had the possibility of tips. These would be deposited weekly under door mats or occasionally in the empty glass bottles we collected.

The busy dairy shop we worked from was on a main road. It was managed very efficiently by a lady called May. Aside from my perceived slight at the aforesaid pay discrepancy she was fair and looked after us. Recognising perhaps the temptation of responsibly delivering hundreds of pints of milk we were allowed to drink as much as we wanted when on our round. I usually managed 1 or 2 pint cartons (about a litre). Another perk was that at on completion of your round May would cut a huge thick slab of gammon (ham) to put in a buttered bread roll. All in all I think we were well fuelled for the work.

As mentioned earlier Saturdays were the hardest. Getting up super early and pushing a double barrow load around the streets was not looked forward to. It was usually dark. The dairy was next door to a bakery. Like the dairy it was also busy in the early hours. We loaded our cargo in the lane at the back of the shop. On a Saturday you would see the baker hard at work making the breads etc. in time for a new day. He was a chain smoker. Someone whose cigarette stuck to his lips the whole time. This left his hands free to do the baking. It was amusing watching him blend his creations with a trickle of cigarette ash added to the ingredients.

After a time I got accustomed to the route. Where the most efficient places to leave the barrow were when carrying bottles and cartons to doors. Like the rest of the lads a work challenge was devising ways to speed up time taken to deliver our orders. After all, we were paid for job done, not time on the job. I had a multi storey building on my round. One technique for quick deliveries involved just stepping partly out of the lift doorway. With enough practice you could slide milk cartons from there to each flat door and still keep them upright.

First jobs don’t last. My older pal moved on to working in a supermarket and after a time I followed him. I suppose our motive was better wages and conditions. Grateful though to my friend for introducing me to the world of work.


10 thoughts on “The Dairy Round

  1. Moira Robertson

    Thanks, Allan. The super-specificity of your description makes for a v lively piece and triggers memories of similar experiences, in my case the Christmas Post. Still feeling a bit nauseous about the ash-contaminated bread!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mimacampbell

    I like the superb description of your milkround. These tasks are a timeless feature of growing up.
    I’m trying to understand all of the fascinating painting but Elisabeth will tell me to keep trying!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Adrian Bowman

    Great story again, Allan. I briefly covered for an early morning paper round and the roaming dogs were the main challenge. I hope you escaped those.

    Liked by 1 person

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