Remember Benny Hill's Ernie - "He drove the fastest milk cart in the west". A true folk hero. But what is the future of the traditional early-morning rattle of milk bottles delivered to your doorstep? In the old environmentally friendly but irritatingly slow electric milk floats - with the milk only chilled by the weather, so it's cold in winter and warm in summer - the modern Ernie's going sour. Love it or hate it, doorstep delivery could have passed its sell-by date.

Why? Whether you regard the milkman in your street as a cheery whistling bird that aids your awakening or a whining and tedious obsolete nuisance annoying your morning peace, you should stilll ask the question "Why don't they do it properly?"

In the face of stiff competition from the supermarkets, the dairies have tried to update their image by offering a selection of non-dairy produce. So in addition to yoghurts, butter, cheese, and the like, you can also buy potatoes, bread and soft drinks.

Viewing non-dairy items on sale on a float some time ago, Nick bought a loaf of sliced bread. When opening it at home later, he noticed the loaf had green spots of mould on it. On scrutinising the labelling it transpired that it was six days past its sell-by date. This appalling basic mistake tends to irrevocably colour one's view of home deliveries - which are otherwise something we are enthusiastic about. If the supermarkets can get all manner of produce to your door hygienically and swiftly (via services like Tesco Home Direct), surely long-established local dairies, who certainly have the edge on local knowledge and early delivery time, could do the same.

Milk, the mainstay of the doorstep delivery, is still an important part of the family diet. But Britain has long been fond of unquestioningly preserving quaint and sub-standard traditions out of a polite sentimentality, like English chocolate, undrinkable tap water and putting up with poor service in restaurants and then tipping the staff out of nervousness.

Here's our tip. Complain, complain, complain. Make your milkmen up their game. Or you'll end up losing your bottle - literally.

The Nosh Brothers' 'Winter Nosh' is on Carlton Food Network

Are We Being Served? (today 3.30 pm) Linda Agran takes Britain's restaurants to task for holding tables open for celebrities, charging for cancellations and leaving credit card slips open when there's already a service charge included.

A Year At Ballymaloe (today 4pm) Darina Allen prepares dishes from the Ballymaloe cookery school in County Cork.

Food For Thought (Wed 1pm) Sarah Greene discusses Jewish cookery and Kosher food, and a guest chef demonstrates recipes.

madsods@aol.com

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