In this week’s instalment of his ‘Nostalgia diaries’, Roger shares his formative experiences of the world of work, delivering newspapers and milk in his local community…
During school term time I still needed to earn some money, but I could not go with father, so I needed more traditional “child jobs”. My first was with a newsagents, delivering newspapers all over my hometown. This was in the days before the world of child labour was regulated. We did not have to get forms filled and signed off by the school and there were no enforced limits on the time you could work. So with the newspapers, our start time was determined by the time of the arrival of the delivery wagon which in turn was governed by the mail train arrival time.
We were expected to be sitting in the sorting shed before the bundles of papers were dropped off on the doorstep of the shop. Then it was organised chaos as we sorted out our delivery lists from the piles of papers. There were the ones we know today, like The Times; Telegraph; Mirror and the bygone publications like The Sketch and The Herald. Did you know that when I first delivered copies of the Times it had no pictures on the front page just columns of text?
However, before I could become a newspaper boy I found myself in a “Catch 22”. I had to have a bike to do the job and I had to have the job to afford to buy the bike. I went to the bank of mum and dad and got a loan. The bike I got was a second hand “racing bike” drop handle bars and thin wheels. I had to bend over to ride it and with a large canvas sack of papers over your shoulder it was totally unsuited to do this job, but it did look good in front of my mates.
So now every morning, it was up at 06:00 to go get the papers and by 07:00 they were being pushed through the letterboxes. Did you know that in the 1960’s most houses had tiny little letterboxes that made delivering broadsheet papers a nightmare. Especially on Sundays. I hated Sundays. All the papers had supplements and magazines. Sometimes you could only carry half your round and would have to make two trips to complete it. Sometimes the delivery would be enlivened when the dog of the house got hold of the paper as it came through the door and a short sharp battle would ensue, which the dog always won as the news slowly became a pile of confetti in someone’s hall. The newsagent and the homeowner would then argue as to where the blame lay. The pay was not brilliant, so when I was offered the chance to get a job delivering milk for three times the wages I jumped at it.
There were two milkmen who delivered in our area, Ted who took his time and delivered from morning to late afternoon, He didn’t use lads to deliver he got out of his van himself and ambled to each house. The other milkman was Frank and he led a team of trained athletes delivering at a non-stop run. It was Frank I went to work for.
A typical day would start with my alarm going off at 05:00 and I would be at Frank’s house, just round the corner from where I lived, his wife would be ready with a mug of tea and a bacon sarnie. This would be wolfed down to ensure that the team would be at the depot to load up the van by 05:30. The milk was kept in a wholesaler’s cold store in town. It was in 20 bottle, stackable metal crates. We would pick them up 3 at a time and load the van to the roof. Red top were normal pints, silver was semi-skimmed, and gold was Jersey with a layer of yellow cream on the top. Sterilised, long life milk was in thinner longer bottles with a crown cap on. We also sold bottles of orange juice and packs of eggs, butter and cheese. We were on the road by 6. Frank’s van was a modified Bedford with sliding side doors and the main doors at the back. The passenger front seat had been removed so we lads would sit on the floor with our backs to the dash and the front wheel well, till we reached the first delivery street.
Now we sprang into action. The rear doors were fixed open, the front doors were also wedged open, Frank drove with a large black book – his bible of who wanted what – balanced on the steering wheel.
Each of us had a hand crate holding 6 or 12 pints, as we drove down the street, Frank would bark out his orders “No 12; two pints, No 20; 1 Jersey and 2 pints, No 24; 1 orange and 3 pints.” One by one we would jump from either the front or back doors as the van moved down the road – it never ever actually stopped – raced to our allocated houses dropped the milk, read any notes, picked up the empties and ran to meet the moving van. We would jump back in, refill our hand crates, adjust the stacks of full crates and be ready for the next set of orders.
Sometimes, when there were only a few houses in a particular road we would be dropped off with two 12 bottle hand crates to deliver that area running to catch up the van at a point further down the route. Then maybe a short breather as Frank drove to a new area. Rain or shine we were out there. Frank had an idiosyncrasy in that he believed that the window screen wipers made it harder to see out. So he never used them, when it rained he just leaned forward and peered out trying to see between the raindrops on the screen. In the winter we ran even faster to keep warm. You can imagine how cold the bottles were. Gloves were out of the question because you had to have good grip as you delivered.
Frank had to use this system of delivery because he was a very large man, who got out of breath just getting in and out of the vehicle. His trousers had a permanent line etched into them where the steering wheel of the van constantly rubbed against his belly as he drove. He was a nice guy, but he chain-smoked black cheroots throughout the delivery. We ended up being dropped back at our homes at around 08:30 just in time to rush to school by 09:00. This work may have been detrimental to my schooling. Even today 60 years later, I still have nightmares where I am out delivering the milk and can’t remember how many pints Mrs Jones at number 33 has.
Eventually all of Frank’s lads would suffer from burnout and move on. I moved on to become a delivery boy for the Home & Colonial Store. This job had two distinct parts, after school and Saturdays. The Home & Colonial was a traditional grocer’s shop, selling food and home goods to discerning middle class house wives. They would go to the shop, tell the sales assistant what they wanted and be served over the counter. After school I worked in the back storeroom. All day, cardboard boxes of tinned and dry goods would be emptied from the store and the produce placed on the shelves behind the counter in the main shop. My job was to tidy up and clean the store room. Then sweep the shop after closing. The store room really had sawdust flooring. I would sweep this up and my last job was to sprinkle fresh sawdust down, ready for the next day. Saturdays were different, these were delivery days.
On being hired I was allocated my own delivery bike this was a huge clunky black bike with a carrier on the front. It also had a stand which you got off the bike to push it down to the ground, held it there with your foot, and then hauled back on the bike till it stood there for you to unload. On a Saturday you go to the shop where your bike would be loaded with 2/3 large boxes of groceries labelled with the delivery address, which we were expected to deliver faster than any “Evri” van.
Once you had delivered, back to the shop to reload. We delivered from 09:00 to 17:00 with a very short lunch break. An unexpected perk of this job was, not only did we get paid, but some ladies would give us a tip. The sixpences soon mounted up on a busy day.
The second unexpected benefit was we were allowed to keep the bike at home all through the week. By the time I started this job I was 14 years old and had passed from being a shy young boy, to being a confident man about town. OK – full disclosure – I had met my first ever girlfriend and now had to find sophisticated things to entertain her with for the rest of the weekend. So I had the
brilliant idea of taking her for rides in the countryside on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I picked her up from her house on the bike, sat her in the carrier on the front of the bike and away we went.
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