Yesterday I saw a milk float; the old fashioned electric type which over the years seems to have all but disappeared. It immediately brought back childhood TV memories of the 1960s and '70s; happy ones, of jolly whistling milkmen wearing white jackets and peaked caps, with a pinta* in each hand.
The Great British Milkman of yesteryear, suburban heroes of an undervalued public service. These cheeky chaps would whistle cheerfully as they sidestepped barking dogs and hopped over garden walls, in their mission to fulfil the daily doorstep demands of desperate housewives in dressing gowns and baby doll nighties, all over the country.
Benny Hill's chart topping tune from 1971 came to mind.
"Ernie... and he drove the fastest milk cart in the west"
Ernie's rival was Two-Ton Ted from Teddington who drove the bakers van. In the song Ernie is tragically slain by a rock cake and a stale pork pie, thrown by a jealous Ted. These days poor Ernie's rival might be the Ocacdo lorry driver, pelting him with kiwi fruit and butternut squash. But as this simple scene played out in my in head, in real life across the street, the milk float screeched to a halt. Well, actually it kind of rattled to a halt but still quite sudden for a milk float.
Then I heard the milkman. No whistling. No chirpy greeting. Just loud and aggressive.
"You f**king stupid c**t!"
My milky memories instantly evaporated like a can of Carnation. He wasn't shouting and swearing at Two-Ton Ted from Teddington or even 'Orrible Ollie the Ocado lorry driver. This was road rage Britain 2012; just another angry man in a milk float and his charmless outburst at an inconsiderate car driver. He made his point I suppose but I'm not sure he felt any better for it. Still shouting and cursing to himself, he trundled away. Written on the side of his milk float was the slogan "Milk and More". The car driver got more that's for sure. No milk though.
Appearing on children's TV meant I had to control my urge to swear if I wanted to keep my job. After so many years the habit's kind of stuck. In the Shawshank Redemption Morgan Freeman continues to ask permission to go to the toilet even when he's freed from prison. That's a bit like me. I ask permission. Then I go to the toilet and swear like a f**king trooper. Some people are just more openly sweary. I know "sweary" isn't a proper word but it's the best way I can think of to describe excessive swearing. Well, apart from "f**king loads of swearing". That's another very good way.
When I lived in a flat in south London, Mr Sweary lived in the same block. Not Mr Sweary from the Mr Men books. Roger Hargreaves didn't write that one. Well I'm fairly sure he didn't. It's not in the box set anyway. The Mr Sweary I knew was a friendly, cheerful bloke. He always greeted me in a pleasant enough manner, just with loads of swearing. Not like he had Tourette's. It was all very casual. Not aggressive either. Just very frequent. Every other f**king word in fact. I'm not f**king lying. It's f**king true. That's what he was f**king like. Not exactly every other f**king word but pretty f**king close. That's why he became known as Mr Sweary. Mr F**king Sweary in fact.
I think Roger Hargreaves must have written Little Miss Sweary though because I'm pretty certain my daughter read it. She's not in the same league as Mr Sweary by any stretch but she's always had a fascination with swear words, even as a little girl. I found a note book of hers one day that contained a short list of 'rude words'. Nothing terrible. Funny really. But I wasn't going to let it go that easily. I teased her often about adding new words in her 'little book'. She wasn't amused. When we moved to live on the coast, I knew she was going to discover a whole new world of them.
Seaside towns are a magnet for swear words. They arrive as predictably as the tide. Scribbled and scratched along the seafront like dead seaweed; inside the draughty promenade shelters, on the grey concrete walls and on faded wooden benches. If washed away, they quickly return to take up residence once more in these natural habitats. Other varieties of rudery find their home here too; like the hand scrawled large penis and hairy balls. Many different types are displayed in all their alarming glory. Their presence at the seaside has been a legal requirement in English coastal towns since local councils first introduced a bylaw, following the Large Penis and Hairy Balls Act of 1971.
But whereas the large penis and hairy balls can only be stared at in silent shock and awe, graffiti swear words offer the ideal opportunity for a curious young child to read them aloud to their parents - or worse - to their grandparents. Like the time we were on holiday in France. You'd think in France you'd be safe. But English seaside swearing is everywhere. Pardon my French. It's English.
So my kids and their cousins were typically amused when, walking back from the beach, my nephew, aged six, decided to read aloud, everything that was written on the outside walls of a French public toilet. I'm not a prude and despite the fake tone of indignation, I'm not really bothered by swearing - it can be a very effective tool; to make a point, to relieve tension and used in the right way, it can be extremely funny. But there is still something very shocking about hearing a young boy shout "c**t" in front of his grandma.
"That's one for your little book", I said to my daughter at the time. She's 15 now. She doesn't need the notebook. It was probably full by the end of her first day at secondary school. This week she swore at me. Admittedly I had been winding her up about something so I was expecting a response, like the usual weary "Oh go away!" Instead, this time she snapped back with "f**k off!"
She didn't mean to. She was mortified when she realised what she'd done and apologised a million times which was kind of sweet. I didn't let her off the hook too lightly though. I went into silent anger mode for as long as I could manage. I'm a dad. That's my job.
Next time she'll remember to ask permission first.
*In my research I discovered there are numerous definitions of the word "pinta". My use of the word is pronounced "pie-nta" as in the old fashioned British slang for "pint of milk" not "pin-ta" as described in the online urban dictionary as - "when a woman passes gas during buttsex".
That's a new one for my notebook anyway.
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