It's an interesting concept particularly when looking at social change over the decades. In the past we had a relationship with the grocer; the doctor; the bank manager-today it's been replaced by a transaction at Tesco's; the health centre; or by telephone banking.
The upside, in our busy lives, is that we are able to speed through the checkout, without having to bring the person at the checkout up to speed on news about the family. The downside comes when one visits the health centre- it's a different doctor, who doesn't know you and who always has to check your notes on the computer screen.
Surprisingly, one vendor who we had no relationship with, was the milkman-no joke intended! The Hoffmanns got their milk delivery from St Cuthbert's Co-operative. A few other families in The Stair were the same-The Swansons were one such family, but the majority of families had other arrangements.
The reason why we didn't have a relationship was partly because of the incredibly early time in the morning at which the milk was delivered-was it around 2.00 am? Indeed the milkman was almost a ghostly presence, with the milk appearing like magic-one would open the door in the morning to bring it in for our cornflakes and there was our three bottles of milk standing erect like soldiers or bowling pins.
However the main reason why we had no relationship with the milkman was because of the interesting system which St Cuthbert's Co-operative operated. There was no billing or weekly money collections by the milkman so he didn't arrive at your doorstep on a Friday evening, which was how Edinburgh & Dumfrieshire operated. Instead a token system was used. whereby milk tokens were left inside the empty bottles which were left out for return. It must have been messy for the milkman and milk-boy-our empties were always very clean, but along with the tokens there must have been a mix of water and even milk on their hands. Saturdays with a double delivery would have been very tiring.
The tokens were purchased each week at The Store at Oxgangs Drive North. There was a separate section in The Store where ladies sat behind glass panels-a bit similar to the old banks-and distributed the tokens-for us it would be twenty one tokens. I can still recall the face of a woman with dark hair and glasses who worked there for decades-I wonder if she was a spinster who had to look after herself?
There were black tokens for when the milk price had risen and red tokens for normal use; there was also half pint tokens too, which was a nice touch if one were an old aged pensioner living alone-something which the supermarket giants wouldn't dream of running today!
The price of milk evidently often went down in the summer and back up in the winter. If customers were not informed it meant they could be spending an extra penny a pint, which over a period of time could mount up, for hard pressed families. Although one could see the Co-op's logic, surely like today's 1st class postage stamps, would it not have been easier just to have operated a single token?
Probably because Oxgangs was such an outlying area, we never enjoyed the pleasure of having our milk delivered by horse-drawn cart the way it was in the centre of town at Marchmont, Tollcross or Stockbridge. Instead it was always a lorry which delivered the milk. As many people are aware Sean Connery was the Co-op's most famous milk-boy and he loved the horses. He worked for St Cuthbert's for many years. Indeed his employee records turned up recently from the archives and were displayed at the National Library at George IV Bridge.
|Sean Connery payslip from St Cuthbert's Dairy|
(Being A Scot, Sean Connery)
|Sean Connery with Archivist at National Library|
(Being A Scot, Sean Connery)
|Photograph Douglas Corrance|