British milkmen still deliver from 2am
ST ALBANS, BRITAIN
ONCE a daily sight on every British street, a dwindling but resilient band of milkmen still go out at the crack of dawn to deliver bottles of fresh milk to the nation's doorsteps.
The overwhelming majority of milk used to be sold at the front door until the supermarket revolution all but wiped out this very British institution.
But by selling more than milk and embracing the Internet, the few thousand remaining milkmen, including Neil Garner, have breathed new life into the cherished tradition.
"It has given us a big boost and brought us into the 21st century," said Mr Garner, the customer-nominated Milkman of the Year at Milk and More, the country's biggest doorstep delivery firm.
The 57-year-old has driven his milk float - an electrified, open-sided delivery van - through towns and villages in the dead of night since 1994, placing glass pint (half-litre) bottles of milk on the doorstep.
It is not just breakfast staples like tea bags, bread, butter, eggs and bacon that he now has on the back of his float.
Jam, cranberry juice, pet food, potatoes and toilet rolls are all available. Even bird seed and compost can be dropped off on the round.
In 1980, 89 per cent of all the milk bought in Britain was delivered to the door, according to trade association Dairy UK.
That figure plunged to 30 per cent during the 1990s out-of-town supermarket boom.
In 2015, just 2.8 per cent of milk still went to the door, with 5,000 milkmen and women delivering to around 2.5 million homes.
Mr Garner's round sees him deliver six days a week to St Albans, a small commuter city north-west of London.
At the depot in nearby Watford, milkmen load up crates, containing 20 one-pint bottles each, before heading into the cold at around 2am.
Mr Garner's no-frills electric milk float is slow and exposed to the elements but the brisk walker likes the ease of hopping on and off for his 200 to 250 deliveries.
"Snow, ice, floods, in 22 years, I have never not been out due to the weather," he noted with pride.
He delivers to industrial estates, schools and even a garden shed.
Some customers leave rolled-up notes with instructions such as "no milk today" or "one extra pint, please" - but most now go online.
A pint of milk, typically 50 pence (S$1) at a supermarket, costs 81 pence.
"There's nothing else you can order online at 9pm and get delivered in a couple of hours," Mr Garner added.
Customers can also phone in orders via a Philippines call centre.