Estimated reading time:5 minutes, 31 seconds
Everyone in Islington has a story, so meet milkman/space ship driver Alan Banks who sees the best and worst of people â and a lot of slugs â on his night rounds delivering glass-bottled pints to N4 and N5 doorsteps. Interview byÂ Nicola Baird.
âIâve told my grand daughter that Iâm a space ship driver,â says Alan , 46,drinking tea in my kitchen after a typical Monday delivering 400 pints around St Thomasâ and Fonthill Road, N4, âbut now Lilyâs seven, I think she knows itâs a jokeâŠâ
âI was born and schooled in Hackney, and then I used to be a French polisher. The money was good but it was long hours. Iâd start at 8am and didnât get home from the factory until 8pm. I never saw the daylight. So when my daughter Jessica (Lilyâs mum) was a baby and bit the top off her bottle I went to the shops and saw a milkman on the way. It got me thinking.â Pretty soon the 21-year-old Alan had his first milk round in Hackney.
âMy job often feels a bit surreal – you get the guys who sell drugs to the prostitutes helping me with the empties, drunks shouting out âHello Milkmanâ and guys who are maybe nicking stuff and have heard the float ducking behind cars so you canât see them â but the strangest time was when I first started and I was delivering milk to a house on Sangenau Road, and all these guys were fighting. It was a very rough bit of Hackney then, we called it the frontline. I had to drive through the middle of them and my first thought was I had all these empty bottles that they could nick off me and throw. It would be carnage. But it was like an Only Fools and Horses moment, they all stopped fighting and moved out of the way. And when I came back down the road they all moved out of the way again,â remembers Alan with a grin.
âWhen I first started people were saying itâs a dying trade, but 20 years on milkmen are still going strong. We stop loads of car crime, just by driving around. And I think a lot of people work from home so they donât need to go out to the shops and the milk isnât left out on the doorstep. Some even have chiller cabinets on the doorstep that I put their pints into. When you first work as a milkman a lot of people donât like it. But itâs a lovely job. You see the sun come up, you see customersâ children grow up, school children wave at you and youâve got the rest of the day freeâŠâ He takes a look at his watch and itâs 11.40am – somehow Alan will squeeze in seven hours of sleep before his alarm goes off again at 1am. He has to be out of his home by 1.45am, drives to the depot at Edmonton where he loads up with milk and then aims to be on the road at 3.15am.
Alan admits it can still be a bit dodgy on a Friday night/Saturday morning in his bit of Islington but reckons âmost people are pretty nice. Just recently there have been a lot of young women copying an Eastenders episode when Kat Slater ran off on the milkfloat. The girls stop me to say âIâm doing a Kat Slaterâ. I just take them to the end of the road and then they take photos.â
Quick questions for Alan the milkman
1 Whatâs the price of a pint (this is for the politicians)?
âNormal is 65p. Organic 79p. It was 33p when I first started.â
2 Whatâs your milk floatâs top speed?
Itâs battery powered and goes 13mph on the flat. Down hill it picks up speed.
3 What do you drink?
I donât drink any alcohol at all. I love milk and drink that on the road. Everyone says I’m a good advert for milk. I like the red top, itâs a homely thing â we used to have it when I was a child.
4 Do birds still peck through milk tops?
Yes, they do steal it if itâs full cream. Some customers leave out a slate or a crate to put on top – that stops them.
5 How do you cope when it gets cold?
For years I couldnât bring myself to wear thermals in case I got run over. The shame of it. Then when I was 39 I tried them and theyâre the best thing. I get mine from Dagenham Market.
Alan isnât so keen on the wildlife a London milkman encounters. âThe slugs are a nighmare. I hate the feel of them if theyâre down the bottles. If people have a lot of plants, and itâs been raining, half of the notes about changes to orders or the cheques left out go missing. I always pray the slugs havenât eaten the signature. And I wear a cap with a peak because I donât really like spiders and they always build cobwebs where you go through the gate. The young guy who works with me, heâs 21 today, heâs terrified of spiders, sometimes you hear him screamâŠâ
âI see foxes every night too, theyâre on every road I pull down. Theyâre so tame, they just walk right past you. Iâve even seen a fox and cat walking side by side.â So far his worst fear â having to deliver a baby â has not occurred. Alan shudders at the thought, but then he gives his big smile again, clearly a man very content with his job.
Long live milk deliveries. You can text Alan to get a milk order started or to change what you have delivered on 07956 846364 (office number 020 8360 1133). Or leave a note in one of the empties on the doorstep of a friend who already is using the services of a milkman.Â Just be careful the slugs donât get it.
Over to you
What do you think of this wonderful milkman? By the way, if youâd like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you. And yes, this blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.