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U3A Writing: It All Goes Past-Yer-Eyes

Vera Sanderson tells an intriguing tale involving the loquacious Lotte, her milkman, and a green and gold foil bottle cap.

Prompt at seven every Friday night Jones The Milk came for his money. Long ago the order used to be fourteen pints ladled out of a steel churn, but now, since the family had flown the coop, it was reduced to just seven. Full cream Jersey milk, mind you. None of your skimmed whitewash for Lotte. Like her grandma before her (who lived to be a hundred), she liked thick cream and honey on her breakfast porridge and would even have full cream in her tea if given half a chance.

Lotte always looked forward to Friday night and her little chat with the milkman - no matter what the weather, or the fact that the high-priced heating was escaping through the open door, for he always stood with one foot in the doorway – not out, not in. It wouldn’t be proper for a married man and a much married woman to be seen conversing in the kitchen, even if her husband was sat reading his paper in the next room. Of course she was well past her sell-by date, but he was very much in his prime, so that made the difference.

He hung on at the door after the usual exchange of money and speculation about the weather. His eyes held a furtive, wary look. “I want a bit of advice,” he whispered.

“Oh! Hell!” she thought, “I hope he doesn’t think that I can help him with his marital problems.”

But his next remark put her at her ease. “I need some help with my paperwork, bills and so forth. I heard that you used to be a commercial stationer, so what do you recommend? Just a simple system, something cheap.”

She puffed out her chest like a pouter pigeon and swung into full flow. “That’s right. I had a shop for over 17 years and supplied stationery to all the leading firms. You should get yourself half a dozen box files, a punch and a ream of A4 copy paper. It’s all A4 now, you know.

“In my day things were much more complicated. We had post-quarto, quarto, and foolscap to worry about besides all the different rulings. I had to buy over 2,000 different items of stock. They are not so fussy these days, so anything cheap will do.

“A second-hand typewriter would come in handy – no need for computers at this stage – I just happen to have one going cheap.”

He half smiled, then ventured, “Have you always been selling commercial stationery? It’s just that you don’t look like a townie, and you’re always talking about milk and farming.”

She inflated her Fantasie Double D even further. “Well, mostly retailing because that’s the thing that I was really good at, but I’ve done many other things. I was a home economist and have my C & G 231-232 certificates to prove it.

“In my youth I got a job as a milk analyst and was seconded to Leeds University for training. It was quite the most interesting job I’ve ever had, visiting the farms and dairies to take milk samples and ‘plating’ them out in agar broth. I’ve seen anthrax and TB wriggling on the plate, staphylococci , streptococci, the lot. I can tell by the merest sip of milk a one c.c. pipette full, if it has been pasteurised, and which milk is which.”

She bragged and boasted on and on. “Of course, the finest milk in the world is raw, fresh milk from an accredited Jersey or Guernsey cow. That’s why I always insist that you must get it for me, even at 30 pence a pint. Gold top only for this house.”

“Well then, no fooling you, eh,” he laughed, clanking his empties loudly as he hastily retreated from her verbal onslaught.

All went well between them for a week or two, apart from her irate tirade about “putting the plastic cover provided over the milk” and a long lecture about the “evils of contamination by ever-pecking birds.”

Then, early morning horror! What did it mean? The foil cap had been changed to green and gold. She rushed inside for her magnifying glass to take a closer look. As she suspected, no writing on the cap. What was he playing at? Was he fobbing her off with milk collected from a mass of mongrel cattle and charging her the same 30 pence a pint?

At precisely seven o’clock on Friday she was waiting for him at the open door, a well-washed foil cap and her tightly closed purse in her hand. “How much?” she growled through teeth as tightly closed as her purse.

“Seven pints at 30 pence, that’s £2.10 as usual, Missus.”

Her cheeks flushed scarlet. “What’s this then, green and gold? What does this mean, I’d like to know? Charging me 30 pence a pint for this muck.” And she thrust the foil cap and money into his hand.

“We’ve had to have a change,” he explained patiently. “What do you think of it, as a qualified milk tester, that is?”

“Not much,” she retorted.

“Oh ay, what’s different about it?”

“It’s too thin. The cream does not stick to the top, and I’m sure that it is pasteurised.”

“In that case, you won’t want any more. You know all there is to know about milk. You’ve got certificates. I’m just a simple farmer, but I’d just like to tell you that this milk is from my own TB tested Jersey cow and was bottled less than two hours before it was put on your step.

“I stopped buying the stuff you’ve been drinking cause it was at least five days old by the time it reached you from Northumberland via York, Halifax and me. That’s why it was ‘thick’, like some other folk I know. You’re the only Jersey customer I have. We drink the rest ourselves – raw, not pasteurised, although in your case it all seems to go ‘past-your-eyes’.”

And with that he picked up his empties and went chuckling and clattering down the drive into the bitter winter night.

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