The Milkman’s magic wallet – what was it?
I grew up in rural Suffolk in the 1970s and 80s, and without wishing to get too misty eyed about the past I do sometimes find my self pondering how different daily life is for anyone growing up today. There are several really big differences that have been written about extensively. The Internet, cheap international flights, a bewildering number of TV channels and so on. But it’s the really small differences that interest me. The tiny nuggets of magic that fascinate and captivate young children.
During the 70s and 80s a lot of aspects of daily life seemed to be increasingly bright and brash. In the 1970s bright clothing was de rigueur. In the 80s cheerfully coloured clothing reached an eye-watering intensity with the arrival of dayglo colours. As a child of the 80s I can even remember socks that were so bright they offended anyone with a sensible eye. Like the headmaster at my high school, who would send kids home if they arrived at school in dayglo socks.
But it’s not always the loudest or brightest cultural memes that make the longest lasting impression. Quite often we find ourselves remembering the little things in life that seemed magical. It could be something as natural and wonderful as seeing a squirrel race up a tree, or something as simple as a new television channel appearing from nowhere. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when the only thing Channel 4 showed each day was the changing of the guard.
Getting back to the Milkman’s magic wallet
Before I get entirely lost in the shifting sands of time I need to get back to what I am supposed to be talking about – the Milkman’s magic wallet. I grew up in Wickham Market, which wasn’t a teeny tiny village by any stretch. It’s a lot bigger now than it was forty years ago when I first troubled it with my presence, but still not enormous. Despite it’s small size Wickham Market has long been well serviced by an institution that is as much a part of life in Suffolk as getting stuck behind a tractor or the small of cattle. The Co-op.
I’d like to pause for just a moment and ask something that will add some gravity to how big a part the Co-op played in Suffolk lives. Can you remember your Co-op divi number? I bet you can. I can remember not only my own Co-op divi number, but also my mum’s number, and indeed her mum’s divi number. How many other businesses have managed to lodge a nugget of information so indelibly in your brain?
One of the services beloved of the Co-op in Wickham Market was milk delivery. Every weekday morning Cyril the Co-op Milkman would take away our (clean!) empty milk bottles and leave us a couple of bottles of incredibly fresh milk. Cyril the milkman was such a well known local character in Wickham Market that he had a walk-on cameo part in the village pantomime each year. If I remember correctly, and there’s no guarantee I do, Cyril used to get a bigger cheer than anyone else in the cast.
For kids of the future they may find the fact that someone would bring us fresh milk every morning magical enough, but there was one magical trick the village milkman had up his sleeve. Or rather in his pocket. When it came for time to pay for the milk we had received the milkman would knock on the door and produce a black book that recorded what was owed. Now that black book isn’t the magical part. Although thinking about it now it’s remarkable that the milkman somehow managed to keep track of an entire village of daily deliveries with nothing more than a few pages and a stubby pencil. Albeit a pencil that would appear to only operate after being given a swift lick by Cyril.
The real magic happened after my mum handed over a fiver to pay for the deliveries. Taking into consideration inflation since the 70s I can only assume a fiver was enough to pay for around six months of milk deliveries. Rather than merely stuffing the note into his pocket, or popping it into a tin the milkman did something that to the very young me appeared to be pure magic. On receiving the five pound note the milkman would reach into his pocket and bring out the most mystical object I had ever seen. The Milkman’s Wallet.
The Milkman’s Wallet worked thus – said Milkman would open said wallet. On one side would be a wodge of notes of the realm, all neatly held in place by some elastic straps. The milkman would put the freshly received note loosely into the middle of the wallet, entirely unsecured by anything. He would then close the wallet and then open it again. When the wallet was re-opened the new note would be magically secured alongside the other notes in the wallet.
Just in case you don’t remember the Milkman’s magic wallet, here’s a video to jog your memory:
Although I now have a very shaky understanding of the mechanics of the Milkman’s Magic Wallet I still think it’s magical. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type of method used to secure money by any other profession. Why is that? What was it about the daily working life of the village milkman that required him to secure his takings so robustly. Despite the fact the milk float had no doors and no seatbelt surely they didn’t travel fast enough to cause any money stowed in pockets to get blown around the Suffolk countryside, if it wasn’t secured by a couple of bits of elastic?
The magic and mystery of the Milkman’s Magic Wallet is slightly diminished by the fact you can now buy Milkman’s Magic Wallets on Amazon!
Do you remember the Milkman’s Magic Wallet? Do you recall anyone else having a magic wallet? Let us know in the comments section, we would love to hear from you!