The sensible driver's fantasy

MOTORING DRIVING AMBITIONS: THE MILKMAN In the first of an occasional series, Matthew Gwyther joins milkman Rish Tiwari in his Dream Machine
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The Independent Culture
Rish Tiwari is a Unigate milkman. Each morning he delivers his pints - "and orange juice, potatoes, eggs, yoghurt, chickens, legs of lamb and pieces of pork " - to the inhabitants of Clapham on his Wales and Edwards three-wheeled float. He rises at 3am to go to the depot in Streatham and is normally finished by 10am. An early start becomes increasingly important during a muggy summer, to stop pintas turning to curd on the doorstep.

So, when it comes to driving a float what's the secret? "You've got to be extremely patient," he says. "You get such ignorant drivers around these days who know how slow a milk-float is but who still are not prepared to tolerate getting stuck behind one."

Downhill, with a Force Eight behind him, Rish can hit a top speed of 15mph if his batteries are giving out maximum juice of 60 volts. It would madden us hares but Rish, the 28-year-old tortoise, refuses to let it get to him. "It doesn't frustrate me. Your psychology just adapts to the vehicle. When you get in you become a different person. The experience has tamed me a lot. I was never exactly a boy racer burning people off at lights but now I'm into safe driving and road safety."

Indeed Rish has reached a sort of Buddhist cleansing of the passions behind the wheel of his lumbering machine. "It's a soothing experience driving a float. Or it can be. Even other drivers don't work me up any more." He has perfected a sort of Zen and the Art of Milk Delivery in London SW4.

This made his choice of Dream Machine surprising - a Honda NSX. The NSX which was launched in 1990 was the first Japanese supercar. With everything from city runabouts to luxury executive vehicles mastered, the one area where the Japanese had no answer to the West was in the realm of the Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin. Honda was the only company capable of such an effort and it used the knowledge it had gained in Formula One to create what remains one of the greatest mid-engined sports cars in the world.

"Japanese cars have always had the problem that they look anonymous," says Rish with great authority. (He used to take no less than four motoring magazines every month but reined himself in due to lack of storage space in his home.) "They had no heritage but that doesn't apply with the NSX. It's 100 per cent original - a beautiful thing."

Supercars have the reputation of behaving around town like skittish stallions, but the NSX is as docile as an elderly Labrador. It's as easy to manoeuvre as a Ford Fiesta. "It's only the admiring glances that remind you what kind of a car you're in, " says Rish. If he had wanted to, Rish could have whisked it from a standing start to 62mph in 5.9 seconds.

Indeed, most young men given the opportunity to get behind the wheel of such a car would proceed to thrash it within an inch of its life (and probably their own as well). But not Rish. Once we had left the southern suburbs of the capital behind on his Dream Drive he still kept to a steady 35mph through the lanes and byways of Sussex. He waited behind tractors and even on dual carriage ways ventured rarely into the outside lane. The revs rose barely past 2,700 on the way to a possible 8,000 but he was happy. "I feel I'm really part of it now," he says negotiating another bend with great care. "It really feels as if it wants to go." Indeed it does go right up to 168mph if you will allow it but not with Rish Tiwari at the helm. With his Advanced Driving Certificate on the wall at home he was determined to drive the NSX the advanced way.

The contrast with his work wheels could not be greater. His three-wheeled float is powered by a series of rechargeable lead acid batteries that weigh a ton. "They give you a maximum range of between 10 and 15 miles," he says. "When they get low on power you just slow down like a cassette player and finally stop. I've been caught out a few times and a couple of years ago we had a major catastrophe at the depot when the charge-up overnight was interrupted and loads of us started breaking down all over South London. Mind you it's quite good being towed home again because you go a bit faster."

His modest speed means he has time to observe the world denied most of us as we hurry from A to B. He knows exactly what is going on in his delivery streets and has even notified the police of break-ins. "I go so slowly uphill on my final run back to the depot," he says, "that I've had some interesting conversations with pedestrians as they walk along beside me."

Passers-by should make the most of such chats. Rish's is a profession in decline. Like Benny Hill's Ernie, it won't be long before they are felled by the stale pork pie of time's advance. Smiths Electrical Vehicles from Gateshead, who took over the Shrewsbury-based Wales and Edwards some years back, reckon milk delivery is heading south by 15-17 per cent every year. Rish's model, the Range Master, constructed from pressed steel and glass fibre, and supplied to order, costs pounds 14,500. The more modern Wales and Edwards 4/96, which powers along at 25mph and does 50 miles before needing a recharge, is even more - pounds 23,000. Both, of course, are zero emission.

Although he has enjoyed being a milkman, Rish is set on another career. He is in his first 12 months of a four-year law course at Birkbeck College in London. After his afternoon snooze, he attends lectures three nights a week and wants to be a criminal barrister.

This might enable him to afford his Driving Ambition. What, by the way, did he think about the NSX's price - a cool pounds 72,195? "It's a bit of an indulgent machine, isn't it? But if you've got that sort of money, and you've got the practicalities of your life sorted out with a Mitsubishi Shogun to carry the kids around, then why not?" !