Jack the Milkman

04 Dec

My paternal Grandfather was, by all accounts, a rather unsavoury old coot with whom I got on very well – which probably reveals things about me that I’d prefer you not to dwell on!

He was born in 1903, the youngest son of the man I have previously labelled “Biggest Alfie” in another post. At that time Biggest Alfie was 56 years old – the age I am now!

Of his childhood on what was then the eastern edge of Ipswich only a small number of anecdotes have come down to me and of these the most entertaining concerns what he and a gang of fellow 9 or 10 year olds would do at the local pub, the Lattice Barn.

There being not very many cars about before the First World War anyone having to travel any distance for a night out (or indeed anyone with only a short distance to travel but no expectation of being able to walk home afterwards!) would go by pony and trap or some other sort of horse and buggy arrangement.
Consequently the land that would now be the pub car park would then have been a fenced paddock where the “transport” could have a bit of a graze while its owner got plastered.

I assume that they left the beasts harnessed to the trap or buggy in the expectation of just getting in and driving away on falling out of the pub at closing time.

Enter Granddad and his chums!

They would sneak into the paddock, detach a buggy and shove the shafts through the bars of the fence. They then walked the horse around the OUTSIDE of the fence and harnessed it up to the shafts again! I would LOVE to have seen the faces of the local drunkards when they tried to work out exactly how they could have parked up THROUGH the fence! I was not told if or how often they actually drove away carrying a section of fence with them!

When he was 14 (towards the end of 1917)he got a job as a milkman (not TOO surprising as most men older than 18 would have been conscripted as machine gun fodder for the Western Front) doing his rounds with a horse and cart, a number of milk churns and a measuring jug. This was a job he was to continue doing until he finally retired well into his 70’s.

He never ever told me any salacious stories of the kind that one might traditionally expect to hear about a milkman but I have a feeling that there may have been some and it would never surprise me to learn that I am related genetically to a much larger percentage of Ipswich than the records would suggest!

Mind you I have no more evidence of that than the discrepancies between the dates on my father’s birth certificate and his parents’ marriage certificate! Plus a general feeling of “roguishness” that he had about him all the time I knew him.

Jack, as he was always called by everyone who knew him (his real names were John Joseph) liked all of the other traditional vices too!

He never smoked less than 20 Rothmans’ King Size cigarettes a day – often many more. He also loved his beer and, after my grandmother died in 1957 he moved in with his sister and her husband – a move that enabled him to spend many evenings in his old haunt, The Lattice Barn, referred to above.

There he was a member of the team that took part in the local Cribbage league, becoming individual Champion for Ipswich for several years in a row. While his working hours (up at 3am nearly every day) meant that he couldn’t play in that team too, he fancied himself as a pretty good darts player as well.

However, he gave up playing darts in 1972 when he, my father and I had an evening out at The Shepherd & Dog public house near Ipswich and I absolutely hammered him at the dartboard. I was 19 at the time, not inclined to show mercy to my elders, and completely failed to mention to him that I had been playing for another nearby pub’s league team for the past two years – so I was pretty good too!

Then the final straw; my little sister (3 years younger than me), having learned from our father, walloped him at cribbage – this was too much for his pride and I don’t think he ever played again!

When his sister died and his brother-in-law sold up and moved away to live with one of his daughters we managed to find Jack a place in sheltered accommodation – a one bedroom flat with its own front door but opening on to communal areas shared with the other “residents”.

Never being one to baulk at something merely because someone else said it was “against the rules” (and that must be where I get my own attitude to the European Union from) he enlisted an accomplice called Len, a couple of years his junior, and set up an illegal brewery. Most of the process was carried out in a big cupboard in his room, which smelled of hops most of the time and Jack and his “runner” would take the orders and make the deliveries. I don’t imagine he would have charged much more than sufficient to recover his costs but I think there would still have been serious disapproval from the Housing Association Management had they found out.

It’s a great shame that he never had to go abroad during those years – just think of the glorious feeling you would get from having a passport with “Bootlegger at an Old People’s Home” in the “Occupation” section!
He might still have been plying this trade at nearly 107 years of age if he hadn’t been quite so hot on Quality Control!

Obviously Jack felt that the beer he had brewed for Christmas 1986 needed more than the usual amount of pre-delivery sampling and unfortunately he overdid it!

Getting up in the dark in the middle of the night for a visit to the bathroom, still drunk, he forgot the geography of his room, tripped over the furniture and managed to break his thigh bone!

In hospital for many weeks while the bone struggled to mend itself his past caught up with him and all those Rothmans King Size ciggies that he had smoked during his lifetime gave him a lowered resistance to pneumonia and in April 1987 he died aged 83.

While the pneumonia wasn’t nice, as far as the rest of that story is concerned I have to say “What a way to go”!

Some days after the funeral my father and I cleared out his flat – my garage loft now contains the more durable parts of his brewing kit. I don’t use it because I’m saving it for when I have to go into sheltered housing of that sort! Well, you have to keep family traditions of THAT sort going, don’t you? I’ll try to watch out for excessive sampling, though!

If there is such a thing as the traditional heaven, and if Jack managed to charm his way into it, I wouldn’t mind betting that there are a number of illicitly pissed angels flying erratically around up there!


(NB. For readers from the USA the word “pissed” is used in the British sense of “seriously drunk” NOT the American sense of “seriously annoyed”)


Posted by on December 4, 2009 in Ipswich


5 responses to “Jack the Milkman

  1. Mike

    December 8, 2009 at 2:38 am

    I actually DID “LOL” at the story of the horse and buggy and fence gag!

  2. sumpnado

    November 13, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    In the 1940s (my boyhood) there were still lots of horses and carts around. Most milk and coal was delivered that way at the end of the War. How could I have missed hearing about such a jape as the buggy and fence trick? It shows genius and is not actually nasty to the drunks, although the horses were deprived of a degree of grazing range which I cannot approve of.

  3. Simon

    January 30, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Well little Alfie, a bit harsh on Uncle Jack, I cannot say I remember an unsavoury old coot!
    I used to enjoy day trips out in his Ford Anglia with his sister Mable (my Grandmother) during the
    school holidays, and he was a great cribbage teacher. I still live in the area and for the sake of
    family tradition still visit the Lattice Barn as much as possible which has changed little since he
    called last orders there.
    Simon (Cyrils youngest)
    PS on the mushroom front, not sure if you know but shortly before Ernie died he was in contact
    with Beatrice’s Grandson who lives in the Birmingham area, which is where she ended up
    working in service, settled and made a life there. So there are a few long lost relatives still out there.

    • Alfie

      February 1, 2012 at 8:05 am

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks for finding and reading some of my stuff – I presume from your comments that you’ve not only read my rather more serious piece on the “Mushroom incident” but are in possession of a copy of the EADT transcripts from which those facts were extracted.

      Yes, “unsavoury” is probably not the right term! I liked and greatly admired my grandfather because, somehow there was a rogueish charm about him that hinted at, shall we say “less than 100% respectibility”. I actually found that very refreshing in my youth!

      I’ll be in touch with you soon on a less public basis but I’m working away from home on an IT contract at present so I’m not sure when.

      Good to hear from you,

      “Alfie” (the younger)


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