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More about my dad

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Posted: August 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

An Englishman who lived through the reigns of Queen Victoria, Kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, my dad was of the working class – a milkman much of his life.

He’d served his country in WWI, earning a medal for bravery on the battlefields of France. He lived until his 93rd year.

Very tall for an Englishman of that day and age, he was 5’10” and never weighed more than 126 pounds. Very fair skinned with sandy hair that gave him the nickname of “Fairy,”’ though there was nothing effeminate about him – he’d sired 16 children!

His hair was kept neat and in a business style with a quiff over his forehead (a bang that naturally curls upward.) He shaved daily until the day he died using a cut-throat razor, sharpening it on a leather strop. The back of his neck was like red, raw beef – the result of being out in all weathers.

He always wore a shirt, tie, waistcoat and tweed jacket and was never without a watch on a chain, draped through the buttonholes of his waistcoat.

He wore his medal ribbon in his coat lapel at the insistence of his boss: It demonstrated patriotism and was good for business.

His turned-up, cuffed trousers were secured by bracers (suspenders) and a belt. He always wore cavalry-type leggings and never suffered with varicose veins.

His black lace-up boots were polished daily, despite England’s notoriously inclement weather. He wore a stiff peaked cap for work and a British cloth tweed cap at other times.

Around the house, he removed his boots and gaiters but would have died rather than be seen without his tie. He removed his jacket and waistcoat only when it was hot or when he worked in the garden. He never went out in the street dressed like that.

His hands were very sinewy. He wore fingerless hand-knitted mitts in cold weather: He needed his fingers free for delivering milk and making change.

He pushed a heavy, insulated milk cart that rolled on two large wagon wheels and had two stout legs for keeping the milk bottles level when he stopped to make a delivery.

It had a horizontal handle the width of the cart, with a large drawer underneath where he stowed cream, butter and his black raincoat and Sou’wester (a fisherman-type rain hat). Two doors opened on the curb side where the milk was stowed.

His rounds covered 15 miles a day starting at 4 a.m. He finished around 3 p.m. when he’d hang his big shiny black leather money bag on a nail over his desk.

After a short nap and a cup of tea, he’d count out his money, put it in neat piles and enter everything neatly in a book to hand to his boss the next day.

Before going to bed he’d roll his own cigarettes using a small device with two little rollers and a piece of cloth between. Into the channel he’d place a little tobacco, spreading it evenly.

Next he’d slip in a thin rice paper and continue rolling until the paper almost disappeared, licking the gummed edge and rolling until it completely disappeared. Out would pop a nice neat cigarette.

Five cigarettes was his daily ration, which he’d put into a small silver cigarette case and slip it into his waistcoat pocket.

He was ambidextrous – wrote with his left hand – used all tools with his right. He never used profane language, nor did I ever hear angry voices between my parents.

He was not a paragon of virtue, far from it; he ruled the roost with a firm hand. He liked his odd pint of beer and a nightly game of cribbage with my mother.

He was, in fact, a very ordinary, decent, hard-working, poor-class Englishman.

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