Milkman walks into a pub

Jessica Mason remembers the very first moments of pub life in the company of her milkman Dad

Jessica Mason

I was four when my mum married the milkman. And we called him Dad, because, back then, he was the closest thing we had to one.

I’d wake up at 5am to the scent of the full English breakfast he was cooking. And I’d beg him to take me out with him on the rounds. He obliged. And I readied myself with layers, a bobble hat and fingerless gloves.

There were all sorts of different homes, families and properties on the round and yet I longed to know about all of the people who lived within them. There were mansions, there were caravans, there were homes for the elderly, there were semi-detached mock Tudors, council estates and tower blocks.

According to Dad, they were all the same, really. At each address there were people living who all needed the same thing: milk.

I asked him if everyone got along, or if the rich people only hung out together and he shook his head and laughed at me.

That’s when he took me to the pub.

It was in The Plough Inn to be exact, halfway along the local estate. We had stopped in to cash-up and I matched his pint of ale with a St Clements and a bag of crisps.

I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply and smelt all the pub scents – the beer and the brass, the fire and the carpet and the blackboard chalk. And I listened too – to the chatter and the thud of arrows into felt, or the clink of glasses and the knock of the cue ball’s break.

I opened my eyes. The fire danced to the snores of a nearby dog.

I looked at what was in the glasses dotted around and realised that the man who owned the house fronted with the electric gates and stone gargoyles was drinking the same as Dad.

That’s the social equality of beer. It doesn’t discriminate.

The pub, as I understood it, was a place where everyone was welcome and fitted in, whatever their story or however wet from the rain they were. The pub could revive smiles, even on the worst of days.

And on the best of days, Christmas Day in fact, Dad and I would take ourselves off to the pub to ‘get out of the way’ while lunch was being prepared. He’d have a swift pint and we’d clink glasses with strangers.

Every picture on the wall was adorned with tinsel, managing to muddle both the kitsch with the wonderful. And we’d play darts and chat. Every face would smile back. And, for whatever reason each person was there, whiling away the hours on that particular day, it really didn’t matter. Everyone shared one thing: In the pub, those hours were our own.

I often get asked why I like beer and pubs so much. And I want to tell them the story about the girl who was up before the urban foxes trying so desperately to learn about life. And, instead, thanks to pubs, learned about people, equality, the subtleties of ambience and the things that matter.