Marcus Bellman was the type of kid you loved to hate. We’d been at school together since we were infants and by the time we reached high school he’d become a real mouthy little fucker. A pioneer of the mop-top, always laughing at his own jokes, and, like a lot of teenage lads in the 80s, could spin a damn good yarn.
Despite his flaws, however, I’ll never hear a bad word against Master Bellman. I owe him. Owe him massively. He will always be the kid who got me my milk round job, thus, providing me with some of my fondest teenage memories.
When I was growing up, of all the jobs available for kids, a milk round was one of the most sought after. Paper jobs were effectively slave labour, market jobs were a good crack but trying to get one wasn’t and saying you worked at your Dad’s factory every Saturday morning won you few friends down our way.
Guaranteed daily banter and plenty of cash in hand – all you’d have needed to call it heaven was the chick from Buck Rogers driving the van.
Here are just a few highlights of why I still miss those red top days –
Loading up at the dairy
The dairy represented the perfect platform to showcase how big your bollocks were. Picture the scene - Saturday morning. 4.30am. Every Milkman in the ‘hood with a full squad of lads, usually split by school lines, pitting their wits against each other to see who could carry the most crates and bang them down on their van hardest without smashing any bottles. You were ranked by crates carried –
One crate = well done, Boy George. Ooh, did you break a nail?
Two crates = industry standard. But still only one more than the lead singer of a boy band.
Three crates = Respect.
Four crates = A technically challenging lift requiring extreme care and very large cojones.
Five crates = they said it couldn’t be done. They said it was madness. They said it would only bring severe embarrassment with a probable short-term ban from the dairy and financial penalty for every bottle smashed. They were right.
Just you, your crate of milk and the sound of the birds singing as morning broke…
Oh, and that innocuous bottle of fresh orange that somehow ended up in the crate and needs downing before the milkman’s back to pick you up.
Too cool for school
Being a milk lad was like having your own personal ID card. You would be known around school based purely on your employment status.
“Do you know that tall kid, Whitehead, in the 4th Year?”
“Course you do. Does the milk wi’ that mop headed spinnin’ twat?”
“Oh yeah, I know him. Quality trainers – jammy get” (see below)
Things that go bump before breakfast
Milk rounds weren’t for faint-hearted teenagers. And certainly not the place for confessionals.
Unfortunately Paul ‘’Steely’’ Steele missed this little memo. Steely was a podgy little ginger-haired kid from the arse end of a rough estate. His first day on the job he decided to admit to the most experienced lad on the round – Chris Channer - that he was scared of the dark. There aren’t too many occupational hazards to this job but, bearing in mind the majority of a milk round was done in the dark, this is quite a big one.
The next day Channer told Steely the best way to overcome his fear was to hit it head on. Channer insisted that Steely took milk to the back door of all the houses by himself. What Steely didn’t know was Channers best mate – Daz Francis – had been following our van and inparticular the movements of young Steely.
Every house Steely delivered milk to (round the back, in the dark, like Channer had told him), Daz would be there to shake a couple of tree branches wildly and murmur the odd ‘’Gonna get yuuuuuuu” through the wind.
Things came to a conclusion at the creepiest house on the round. By this stage it was all we could do to get Steely out of the van but Channer was not somebody you said no to twice. He sent Steely round the back with a silver top in each hand. This time Daz decided to show himself – bursting through a bush shouting “You’re gonna diiiiiiiiieeeeee”. We could hear this from the van, followed by a double smash as each milk bottle first went up in the air and then hit the ground.
We caught up with Steely about half a mile down the road. Christ, that kid could run. We managed to calm him down enough to finish the round but unfortunately for him this was the end of the road for his milk round adventure.
1st rule of milk rounds – don’t sleep in. 2nd rule of milk rounds – don’t try and bullshit your way out of the fact you’ve slept in.
What happened, did you sleep in yer lazy sod, we’ve been waiting ages? What? Oh, you were just upstairs playing on your Astro Wars so didn’t hear the knock? Was that before or after you got dragged through a hedge and ate two bowls of shit flakes?
Okay – reality check. It may sound like we did the job for the love of crate lifting or for fun-filled, and impressively organized, japes at some ginger haired kids expense, but some days the job could be a real pisser. Come rain or shine those houses needed milk on their ready brek. And mostly it rained. Come Saturday, though, it all felt worth it. Milk boys were amongst the top 1% of kid earners in our school (not hard!). And in the 1980’s this meant one thing – trainers.
God bless those poor paper boys and girls. Imagine having to save up for nearly six months just to get a pair of Hi-Tec Strada? For us milk boys we didn’t drag ourselves out of bed in the dead of night for anything less than a swoosh or three stripes on the side of our foot attire. How do you know who the milk boys are in school? Stand in the corridor at break time and whoever smacks you in the eye with the biggest sports bag slung over their shoulder – that’s them.
A long week always ended with the longest shift – Saturday. Doubling up day. But by the end of it you were assured of two wonderful truths. First, you got paid and second for us a stop off at the local greasy spoon. That B.E.S.T (Bacon,Egg,Sausage,Tomato) butty never touched the sides.
Yep. Happy days.