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Eddie Cunningham: How the chiller killed off the midnight milkman and his pots of white gold

They left the windows and back doors open for the Midnight Milkman in our town. In the dark, sleepy hours he'd pour the white gold from small churns, with snouts like a fibbing Pinocchio, into jugs on window sills and kitchen tables.

If anyone happened to be up and about, he'd sit for a chat and maybe a cup of tea. It could be daylight before he'd continue his rounds.

Now we pick up our pasteurised, homogenised milk from purring pews in supermarkets and swipe it through checkouts in neat cartons and containers that tell us about what's in it.

It is all so clean, hygienic and convenient. I never pass these displays without reflecting on when it was not so straightforward and no one knew about fat or calcium content.

The midnight milkman was a phenomenon of our town. He may have been unique in his timing but he was only one of thousands who delivered straight from farm to kitchen, from churn to jug.

He had a green Morris Minor van to get him around. Others pushed specially designed bicycles with a 'platform' for their rattling utensils over the front wheel. Others simply swept around their neighbourhood on foot, knocking on doors and windows.

In those days it was not unusual for cows to be walked through the town, morning and evening, for milking. By hand of course.

Oh! the heat of a summer's Sunday evening and the threat of a stinging, smelly lash from a cow-dung tail as you sat on a three-legged stool squirting jets of milk into a bucket, humming a Top 20 hit of the day.

And the rush there would be to get finished before heading off to a dance (generously embalmed in Old Spice -- on the cheeks and under the arms -- to fend off any suspicion of odours from the age-old labour of extracting the contents of a bovine udder).

Then all changed. Milking machines that could do the work of 10 men were installed as farmers became 'progressive' on the back of EEC grants and money.

Delivering milk also became a semi-mechanised, focused, regimented business. Hard-working men and boys delivered gold-topped bottles from a big van to your doorstep before the birds fluttered for the dawn chorus. How obliging they were to secrete the bottles from magpie beaks. Goodnight milkmen of yore.

I never go to the fridge for a carton of milk without thinking of two things.

The first is the miracle of nature turning green grass into white gold and man's ability to ferry it so quickly to our supermarket shelves.

The second is how quickly God called our Midnight Milkman to do his rounds in the sky.