Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Electric Milk Float: A Vision Of The Future From The Past

I remember the electric milk float from the 1960s - the slow, graceful and quiet "creature" that glided and floated serenely along our streets every morning come sun, rain, ice or snow. 

We used to live just up the road from a co-op dairy and many mornings I would be woken around 5am to the clatter of milk crates being moved around. Like Santa, milkmen did their work while most of us were fast asleep and magically, as if it were xmas day every morning, our milk would be waiting on the doorstep for our breakfast. The milk float was such a part of local communities - many of us as children, if we didn't do a paper round did a milk round before school and everyone met the milk man at the weekend when he would collect the money for the weeks milk. We always gave him an Xmas card and a small gift.

Back in the 1960s few people could afford a car - the roads were quiet and people lived, worked and shopped locally ... the milk float fitted perfectly into its time but as more people owned their own car the way people's lives  changed - they could live and work remotely and do their shopping in larger quantities and less often. The milkman couldn't compete against the supermarket - it was just cheaper and easier to buy 4 pint plastic cartons of milk with the rest of the shopping, put them in the fridge and throw them away when done. The milk float had a long and lingering decline you could see it still doing its rounds late in the day as it had to travel further "just to stand still" - delivering to fewer and fewer people. During the late1980s milk floats were in their death throws - diversifying to try and survive by offering all sorts of grocery home deliveries like potatoes, bread and juice as well as milk but it seemed too late ... and in retrospect to early - the supermarket and the out of town shopping centres were the thing and the Internet wasn't even on the horizon. Today the milk float is a rare and endangered species mostly confined to the sanctuary of better off areas where the milk bottle on the doorstep to show you can afford it along with a national trust sticker on the window to show you care.

Once upon a time almost every house and flat had milk bottles on the doorstep in the morning ... it was taken for granted and there was trust - its been a very long time since I've passed a house and seen a milk bottle on the doorstep - I can't imagine it today ... everything has changed.

I'm not sure why dairies used electric vehicles back in the 1960s - I guess its because its because they worked early in the morning and were very quiet. The electric milk float could be charged overnight and the milkman, like the postman, would stop at almost every house so only had to move slowly and had a relatively small range. 

The electric milk float was a vision of the future from the past.

* Electric
Fossil fuels are finite, toxic and cause climate change - they will inevitably be replaced by something else and fully electric vehicles are the main contender. Quiet and clean - electric delivery vehicles are inevitable, especially in rural areas and the milk float provides a ready made example of how we used to do this.

* Home delivery
The 1960s was a progressive time not only did we get to the moon but we could also have our milk delivered to our door every morning. We had local shops and local delivery - I remember our coal being delivered by horse and cart, the grocer used to do delivery rounds, mum used to order stuff from the catalogues and we could enrol to do a degree delivered to our homes with the Open University! The Internet has created a new era of home delivery but the tables have turned and its the supermarkets who are delivering our groceries and a global-national-local combination of massive international platforms and couriers delivering our shopping.

* Just in time
Every morning the milkman would leave fresh milk on our doorstep just in time for breakfast - almost without fail whatever the weather. I remember those cold winter mornings opening the front door to get the milk in ... snow against the door and with the milk bottles covered in snow and iced milk inside ... we couldn't get the milk out of the bottle - I used to love that :) Amazon Prime, Argus same day .. we had that back in the 1960s everyday before we woke up with our milk!

* Recycling
Not only did the milkman deliver our milk but he collected the empty bottles we left out so they could be reused - it was all part of the system that we took for granted ... we didn't even think about it - put the empties out at night and bring in the new milk in the morning. After decades of throw away plastic its something we have had to relearn but its far less sustainable and efficient as it was back in the 1960s with the milkman.

* Environmentally friendly
Quiet, clean, and recycled - all of these things are among the answers to the problems of today - the electric milk float and its business model was 50 years ahead of its time.

* Local 
The milkman and the milk float were local, the milkman lived locally, knew his round and the people on it - they met face to face every week and many children worked on their local milk round ... helping deliver milk to friends and neighbours and even their own house. This type of local and community knowledge has been lost in many areas as car ownership has made us all more remote. As we enter the information age it is possible it is possible to flip the meaning of remote work ... rather than work remotely from where you live it is possible for many people in information processing jobs to "work remotely" ... i.e. to work locally or at home using the Internet.

Like going to the moon ... we have been there before

Environmentally friendly and local ... the vision of the vision of the future that many have is a reflection of the past ... there is no need to re-invent the wheel but the battery - the electric milk float was a vision of the future from the past.

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