Monday, 8 April 2013

She snatched my milk

I was at primary school in the 1970s, and I remember school milk.  It used to arrived in little half-height crates filled with little glass bottles that looked like real milk bottles but smaller - I assume 1/3 pint each.  They all had silver foil tops on, which were marked with either a "3" or a "4", I have no idea why.  I once asked my teacher if that meant they contained 3 or 4 pints, she said no it didn't as a 3 pint bottle would be much larger, and gestured how high it would be.

I liked that teacher.  She taught me to read, using the books in the series "The Village with Three Corners".  They were brilliant; they had proper stories in them, so that you wanted to get to the end in order to find out what happened to Roger Red Hat.  Once I found that I could read anything, I never stopped.  You could read brilliant and exciting stories, like "The Stepping Stones", in which Roger Red Hat has to cross a dangerous river.  Or you could read hilarious stuff like "The Cat in The Hat", I remember that book rendering me insensible with laughter on the (linoleum) floor of the classroom.  I owe that teacher a huge debt of gratitude, but I can't even remember her name.

Anyway, the milk would arrive at some point during the morning, and would wait until there was a suitable break in the lessons.  Then we would collect a blue straw and a bottle and take it back to our seat, and push the straw through the tin foil lid to drink the milk.  By then, it was always warm, and not very appetising.  I used to finish it though, because one of my Mum's frequent comments was about how good for you milk was.  Lots of my classmates didn't - I'd say about half the milk was left undrunk, not to mention the bottles that were still in the crate untouched.  Inevitably, there would be a long delay before the bottles were collected, and the other kids would spill some, so the classroom would fill with the smell of warm and off milk.  To this day, I still detest that smell.

One day, suddenly, the milk stopped coming.

None of us cared.  I stopped feeling under pressure to drink this horrible warm stuff, and the smell eventually worked its way out of the carpets.  We spent our time doing lessons instead, or reading more adventures of Roger Red Hat.

So there, in a nutshell, you have an early appreciation on my part of the effect of government initiatives.  Stuff that most people don't want or need is acquired at who knows what cost, distributed inefficiently to people who don't really need it, distracting them from doing what they are there to do and making them waste their time doing something else instead.  I was a Thatcherite by the age of 6, I just didn't realise it until I was about 22.

Thank you, Lady T.  RIP.


  1. Great post. I was lucky enough to get school milk in the 80s, but I grew up under one of the loony London councils that were famous for offering free driving lessons to lesbian single mothers. I had forgotten the numbers on the foil!

    Mrs T rebuilt the country so skilled and talented people could do well and for that I thank her.

  2. I was made to drink the stuff, but that was in the forties. Probably it was a good idea in wartime but their ceased to be any real point to it once rationing and other shortages had disappeared.

    My parents thought Mrs T was the greatest prime minister of their lifetime, and as I think the same, I can confidently claim that in the view of my family she was the greatest since late Victorian times.

  3. I dislike milk. Always have. Never used to drink it.
    We had large cardboard boxes of broken biscuits. Always plain. Maybe shortbread but usually those ones with stick men sports people on them.

    You were given three or four broken biscuits if you took the milk. So I always took the milk but never drunk it.

  4. I can only just remember school milk but nobody I know cared when it was abolished. If I recall correctly, it was some time later that I became aware of juvenile political types who thought that rhyming Thatcher and snatcher in an almost instantly trite chant was a cool, "right on" way of expressing themselves. The horrible warm school milk is but a distant memory but the playground politics seem to have stayed with us and become more commonplace.

  5. I don't remember Mrs T snatching my milk. I do remember the picture of schools described by Glenda Jackson though - the plaster held onto the walls with stickytape etc. It fostered a culture of vandalism - which was doubtless carried over into the neighbourhood. It all gave the impression that both we and our education were of little value. Matters were not helped of course, but the opposite problem of teachers behaving as if educating us was only worth doing if there was nothing better to do - like being on strike. "Grudging" is how I would describe the educational culture I lived within. In this context, if many people did not better themselves, they were responding to what was around them.

    Doing something on the cheap is not the same as getting value for money. I wonder if Thatcherism sometimes got that balance wrong.

  6. Lovely post. I too remember the milk and remember not touching a single drop of the stuff. A glass of milk straight from the fridge can be quite refreshing. A glass of milk that has sat in the sunlit corridor of a school for three or four hours much less so.

    I was trying to guess at how much milk was in those bottles. I would actually guess at around 200mls which is around a third of a pint.

    Even today, almost 40 years on, I can buy 2 litres of milk for a pound meaning that the value of that milk in today's money was around 10 pence.

    Thatcher the Milk Snatcher? What the hell kind of person has kids when they can't even afford to give them 10p worth of milk each morning before they go to school?