England is having the coldest winter in thirty years. Americans are used to Dickens-based costume dramas showing London in the snow, but London, and the whole south of England, rarely gets snow, certainly not snow that sticks for more than a day.
But we’ve had snow this year, all right. The post(US: mail) hasn’t been delivered in a week. And the milkman missed our deliveries all last week but was back on track yesterday, to the relief of my milk-loving spouse who regards a supply of fresh organic semi-skimmed in glass bottles on the doorstep in the mornings as sufficient reason to prefer living in the UK to living anywhere else.Having a milkman turns out to be a much greener way to shop than you might think. They don’t just deliver milk. They’re not even limited to dairy products, though they’ve got all that: cheese, butter, yoghurt. They also bring everything from organic vegetables to aluminum foil (UK: aluminium foil) to potting compost. And they’ve been using electric vehicles called milk floats since the 1940s. (Before that it was horse-drawn carts, before that it was milkman-drawn barrows.) Back then, some big cities had three deliveries a day, but don’t tell my husband; he’ll pine. Dairies chose milk floats because they’re quiet, long before the phrase carbon footprint appeared in the language. Don’t want to upset the customers by waking them up; they might decide to go shopping for the milk themselves. Milk floats are still in use today, and it’s no fun to be stuck behind one in traffic if you’re running late; their top speed is normally about 20 mph on a good day, downhill, with a following wind. There have been time trials, though, in which milk floats have been clocked at up to 73 mph, but these used milk floats that had been jazzed up with extras by the manufacturers, really souped-up milk floats (not a phrase I—or anyone else—has much opportunity to use).
You might have noticed that mph go by; the UK still quotes distances in miles and the milkmen still bring milk in pints, too, although most people here use metric units for everything else, as other Europeans do. Of course, British pints aren’t the same as American pints, because that would be too easy. A British pint is 20 fluid ounces, 4 more than its American counterpart. The Brits also have a word Americans don’t: pinta. That can mean a pint of beer, but is vastly more often used to mean a pint of milk, just as cuppa is used for a cup of tea.When you order your pinta from the milkman, you get an remarkable choice of different milks including gold top milk, which has extra cream. Bluetits, birds commonly found in gardens here, apparently learned to tell the gold foil bottle tops from the others and would pierce the tops with their beaks to get at the cream; some people keep plastic tumblers around, for the milkmen to put over the bottles of gold top milk so the birds can’t get it. And the cream definitely does rise to the top here, because the milkman brings unhomogenized milk. If you want your milk homogenized, you have to ask for that specially. After the snow hit, my husband got out and energetically shoveled the stuff away, broke up the ice on the front steps with a shovel, and put out salt to clear a path, fearing that the milkman might otherwise pass us by. Oh, and that way the post could be delivered, too. Milk deliveries started up before postal deliveries, though. Apparently the Royal Mail doesn’t have that “snow nor rain…nor dark of night” thing going on.
But look—I’m complaining about the post and talking about the weather. I must be British. And if that New Year’s baby comes around, well, at least we’ve got milk.