Headmaster’s Thoughts – September 2012

Welcome to the new school year!

As a note to new parents, I should explain what these “Headmaster’s Thoughts” are, and what they are not. They were begun in December 2004 as a monthly essay for my Senior Ethics class to read and critique. That was the plan and, like most plans, the pieces changed as the years went on, becoming less about ethics and more personal. The following is typical in that it has nothing to do with ethics, has a lot to do with my own history (in this case my lifelong love of horses), and attempts to be amusing.

I first became seriously “involved” (to use a Woody Allen expression) with horses at the age of ten. Until then, my only thought of horses had been dreams of heroism in rescuing people from runaway horses. Since we lived in a suburb of London, runaway horses were not, to say the very least, a common phenomenon. In fact, I think it would be true to say that runaway horses were a scarcity. But I digress.

The horse I first became involved with belonged to the local milk company called “Express Dairies.” In hindsight, that name seems particularly ironic bearing in mind the speed of Daisy, the horse in question. Daisy pulled the milk delivery cart, and she pulled it at a speed that possibly would have caused competition for “Lonesome George,” the last Galapagos turtle of its kind who sadly died this year.

It was decided by the authorities that horses pulling carts could not be left alone on the side of our suburban thoroughfares. So while the milkman was delivering bottles of milk (and sometimes eggs and yogurt) to the side doors of the houses in our borough, someone had to sit on the cart in case Daisy ambled off. That someone was called the milkman’s boy, and I am proud to say that I was a member of that group. It earned me one shilling and sixpence a week.

The duties of a milkman’s boy were not strenuous. Primarily, the job entailed sitting and trying to look as though there was a cat’s chance in hell that you could do something if Daisy wandered. The milkman loaded the cart, checked the delivery schedule, and did all the physical delivering of bottles and collection of the empties (no one called it recycling, but recycling it was). I remember that the reins were left on a hook near where I sat. I avoided holding them in case, by some manual mistake on my part, Daisy got ideas of movement. I wish I could add to this history by telling you the name of the milkman I worked for, but honesty compels me to admit that I have forgotten. This is not a fact blocked by emotional trauma but by plain vanilla forgetfulness. I would go the dairy stable (“Express” by name but not “Express” by fact) after school and climb aboard. One shilling and sixpence a week! In today’s terms, the purchase power of two bucks. I hope you are impressed.

The real sad tale is that technology made me redundant. Not the technology of computers that you might be thinking of—no; the technology of the electric powered milk cart. It seems they do not have the potential to amble off by themselves when the milkman is delivering the milk (and, lest we forget, possibly the eggs and yogurt). So, at the age of twelve, in the year of Nineteen Hundred and Fifty Six, I was, without formal notice or any paper acknowledgment, told by the milkman whose name I have forgotten (and now, in retrospect, maybe there was emotional scarring that has pushed his name back into the inner recesses of what I like to call my mind) that I was no longer needed.

If you go to the suburbs of London, you may still see milk carts, electric powered and anonymous, with none of the philosophic and introspective thoughts that I ascribed to Daisy, delivering milk (and possibly eggs and yogurt). Sadly, there will be no milkman’s boy. If, for some unfathomable reason, the authorities would like to have a parade of milkman’s boys, our numbers each year would shrink—fewer and fewer marching up the Mall towards Buckingham Palace (one can but dream!) saluting past a memorial statue of Daisy and her ilk. A declining number of old men (I am sorry but I never heard of a milkman’s girl) left to tell our tale of heroism and pluck. I do not actually have a story of heroism or pluck, but one of our number must have once earned his one shilling and sixpence by doing something with heroism and pluck. Fewer of us are around to sit our grandchildren on our knees (whether they have been replaced or not… I am referring to our knees) and tell tall tales of the Daisies of the world and of a time when households depended on getting their milk (and possibly their eggs and yogurt, too) from a good horse, an industrious milkman, and a valiant milkman’s boy.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section More News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.