It took me back for a moment. To a classroom, the smell of Copydex, a pair of nobbly tights under sandal buckles and what happened when I rubbed my thumb on the silver top of the milk bottle. Usually by the time the plastic crate clinked around to me, the straws had been jabbed through the foil, but, sometimes, I got an unpunctured bottle. The pleasure in making that perfect silver dish before my thumb popped through splashing tepid milk was immense. Kind of like a forerunner to the donk a teaspoon end makes in a virgin coffee jar. (The loss of this is the only drawback of my coffee snobbery)
It was all this talk of free milk that did it. Mr Cameron didn’t like the idea that it should be scrapped. He’s about the same age as me and I turned seven the year that Thatcher Milk Snatcher took our playtime treat away. Did he miss the thumb, milkbottle lid thing too at his prep school?
But I do wonder just why free milk is such a sacred cow for him. I didn’t even know kids still got free milk until this week. I have no recollection what happened with Boys One and Two and their nursery milk, none whatsoever. But just recently Boy Three has graduated from SMA to cows and when I asked both his nursery and the child minder what the arrangements would be, they said something along the lines of ‘oh, don’t worry we have it here’. And I left happy and proud that it was another perk of the wisely chosen childcare. Hmmm.
So If I didn’t even know my child was benefiting from this benefit, how can I be upset at its removal. And, while scientific evidence seems sketchy, a free drink of milk for kids who really need it seems an excellent idea… if it’s targeted.
This came as I had a lovely supper with a chum J who works in a local authority press office. Among many subjects covered were council cuts. She kindly let me have my set-piece rant about the protests against the school bus being cut and how it’ll cause me a really big personal inconvenience (as well of course for busier roads, more pollution, blah, blah). Then she nodded sagely as I opined that all the council needed to do was catch people who let their dogs poo and fine them lots of money, enough to save the bus.
Then she said: “Well yes. I can see the bus thing isn’t good. In our council area the parents are paying their own bus transport, maybe you could try that.”
Then she fixed me with a Look. “You know, you middle class types should be a bit careful what you protest about. The council has to deal with every one and it costs a fortune. The bottom line is that there are going to be far more cuts than just the bus. Real, proper cuts. You haven’t seen the half of it yet.”
“Really?” I gulped.
“Really. There are going to be horrible decisions like shutting special needs schools, stopping meals on wheels, shutting parks and libraries. No one’s going to like it.”
Crikey. But she got me thinking: How we’ve got into the mess is irrelevant, what matters is how we clean it up and still protect the most vulnerable members of society. We’ve all got a little bit used to having all sorts of things, school buses, swimming pools, old folk we don’t need to worry about because Somebody is responsible.
Maybe we all need to accept that if we can afford to pay for stuff, we ought to. I can afford milk for my children and the cost of getting them to school. I love our free library, but if it cost a little I’d still go. It’s pleasant that the grass is cut here every week, but my life would be no different if it was cut less frequently.
What’s this got to do with a little girl sitting in a classroom rubbing her way through a foil lid with her thumbnail? That little girl has grown up and had a bit of a think and reckons she – and everyone else – should work out what matters for everyone not just what’s mighty irritating and inconvenient.