The young today will no doubt find it strange to learn that during previous centuries, people would have to walk miles with a jug in order to buy a quantity of milk for the family table. My mother used to tell me as I grew up that she walked a six-mile return journey each day to collect the milk for the family before she went to school. I don't know how much truth there was in this tale, given that Ireland has been an agricultural country since the early 1700's where the populace lived on potatoes, cabbage, milk and butter. Indeed, I find it hard to believe that anyone could stand at the rear door to their humble Irish dwelling without seeing a farm in the near distance. In later life, I came to accept that mum's six-mile daily trek was probably nearer one!
I remember the very first person one would hear a couple of hours before it was time to get up out of bed and get dressed for school was the milkman, whistling as he walked down the pathway and placing a couple of pints on the doorstep. I also recall being a youngster at school and getting free milk every morning break that I looked forward to and undoubtedly benefited from. It was a common occurrence for many a late-morning riser to discover their bottle of milk stolen from their doorstep if they got out of bed after half past eight.
As a young man in my late teens, it was crucially important that everyone who could legally get served alcohol in a pub could also down half a dozen pints before arriving at the Town Hall for their weekly dance, colloquially known as 'The Friday night fumble' or the 'Saturday night bust-up'. I never quite understood why, but Friday night at the Town Hall dance was all about getting the girls where they didn't want to be got, whereas Saturday nights was always about fighting another gang of lads from another Liversedge area.
Drinking the minimal amount of six pints of beer was the initiation test for membership to any Liversedge gang. It mattered not how many times a young man was sick in-between, as long as he had drunk six pints of the hard stuff to throw back up! As someone who could never keep down his alcohol, I would be heavily reliant on some of the drinking tips that my older workmates at 'Harrison Gardener's Mill' might give me. 'Never drink on an empty stomach, Bill', was the most tried and tested one, along with, 'To prepare for a night of heavy drinking with the lads, Bill, without being sick, always drink a pint of milk to line your stomach before you start the pub crawl from the Old Pack Horse on the Moorside, all the way down to 'The Commercial' in Cleckheaton!'
Milk and the drinking of it played a crucial part in my development from child to adult. Every child loves to get one over on stupid adults whenever they can and if they can get away with their crime, all the sweeter! One of my sneakiest tricks played on mum would occur whenever I was the first up on a morning in order to bring in the bottled milk from the doorstep. There was something about the taste of cream from the bottle top that tempted the taste buds of any self-respecting rebel. At first, I would carefully remove the silver-foiled top, and after drinking half the head of cream in the neck of the milk bottle, I would carefully replace the cap. Whenever I left the top too loose, mum would know that I'd been at the cream and give me 'what for.'
I was 7 or 8 years old before I noticed little pinprick holes in the tops of some uncapped milk bottles on people's doorsteps. I later learned that they had been caused by thieving birds pecking at the cream from the bottleneck. This newfound knowledge provided me with the ideal opportunity to engage in the 'perfect crime'; how to steal the cream head inside the bottles and get away with it by blaming the theft on another thief! A number of finely pricked holes by use of a sewing needle would enable me to suck out most of the cream while leaving the silk-foil top intact around the bottleneck. My usual response when bringing in the milk was, 'It looks like the birds have been at the cream again, Mum.' And on those occasions when I hadn't been able to get a small enough needle to prick with and used a much thicker knitting needle instead, I would blame it on a stray cat's claws.
It felt fair grand to be the first to taste the cream and get away with it!
When I consider my past, I am frequently obliged to accept that telling lies is a natural development of character in all delinquents. Being both older and wiser these days, I now know that telling a lie is an art in a lover, an accomplishment in a married man, and it becomes second nature to an author who needs to stretch the imagination of his readers in a bid to suspend their critical judgement." William Forde: November 21st, 2017.