After the distressing news that thousands of milkmen are being sacked because the supermarkets are charging fiendishly little for their pints, I decided to find out what had happened to their faithful steeds.
Many moons ago, I spent several months as a milkman, frequently in a "W&E" float at the head of a restively sluggish traffic jam. Who was W, I wondered, and where could I find E? The answer is Shrewsbury, where Clive Evans, marketing man for Wales and Edwards, tells a sad tale. "We've sold two milk floats in the last three years," he says.
In the 1970s, the industry was making 1,200 floats a year - then in the early 1980s the wicked Common Market insisted that supermarkets be allowed to undercut milkmen. The bottom fell out of the float market. "There was a 70 per cent fall in orders in one year," Mr Evans recalls.
Rationalisation followed. In 1989, W&E was bought by another float maker, Smith's Electric Vehicles, of Gateshead. Its ultimate owner, oddly, is Ringtons Tea, which started making floats during the War so that it could keep up its home tea delivery service.
Manufacturers' problems are compounded by the fact that milk floats last too darned long. Unigate says some of its are 40 years old, though they will have been rebodied a few times. At 40 miles maximum a day, they will be lucky to do 10,000 miles a year. Gliding serenely at 15 to 20mph, there is no particular reason why they should wear out.
But the milk float makers are a resourceful lot. They have been selling rebodied floats to BAA's Scottish airports, which apparently are keen on using the quietest vehicles they can. Strange, given the noise aeroplanes make, but true. Other rebodied floats can be seen trundling laundry around hospitals, Mr Evans says.
But the most intriguing line is the new "super float" that dairies have ordered. This will be used to deliver groceries as well as milk, and fits nicely into a pet Bunhill theory. Floats will rise again, this theory goes, because home deliveries by supermarkets are about to take off. Mr Evans hopes Bunhill is right. "We could could build any one of six models straight away," he says. At a modest pounds 14,000 to pounds 18,000 each, how can Mr Sainsbury resist?
WE SEE strange things from our perch halfway up Bunhill Towers here in Canary Wharf. On Thursday, a 30ft-high statue of Michael Jackson came floating down the river Thames below; it was, I am afraid, the subject of much ribald mirth.
But Mr Jackson is only one of the strange bodies logged by the Port of London Authority as they chug towards the metropolis.
There was the Greek trireme, flying the flag of the Hellenic navy. There was a Russian submarine, which is still moored by the Thames Barrier (the first one sank crossing the North Sea, so they went back and got another one). There were a couple of Viking longships. And, a colleague older than myself reminds me, Cleopatra's Needle came the same way in 1878.
But the most alarming story concerns another human figure - a 9ft-tall sculpture of a man that was towed up river and moored on a pontoon by Waterloo Bridge.
One night, a voice from the shore cried out: "Hang on mate, I'll rescue you." There was a splosh, and a workboat had to fish the rescuer out of the river. Let's hope teenyboppers don't feel similarly overcome when they see Mr Jackson rocking gently in the Pool of London.
Class of its own
STANDING on an Underground platform the other day, I noticed a billboard advertising United Airlines' Connoisseur Class. This was its business class. What a silly name, I thought: I wonder if the other airlines can top it?
Thanks to Business Traveller magazine, I can exclusively reveal that it is a pretty desperate competition. Most of the other names are so uninspiring that United Airlines should be thanked for at least trying to think up something different. Of the 59 long-haul airlines listed, 21 call business class just that, while another seven have come up with the deeply dull "executive".
British Airways invented Club Class, and is flattered by imitators from five airlines. Only a handful have anything remotely interesting. Virgin's Upper Class has a bit of sparkle, while Gulf's Falcon, Lauda-air's Amadeus and China Airline's Dynasty have a certain style.
My favourites are the two that refuse to kowtow to the anglos - Pakistan International's Sohni (which apparently means beautiful in Urdu) and Philippine International's Mabuhay, which means welcome. Wooden spoon goes to Viasa, which calls its business class "special" (sounds ominous; probably is).
I feel Bunhill's readers can do better than any of these. What about Squire, to contrast with Peasant Class? SEP - Someone Else Paid? Or La Grande Nause, for one of the dodgier francophone airlines?
A bottle of the fizziest to whoever comes up with the best idea.
THE armorial bearings here belong to the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. If you are surprised that such a thing exists, you have not been paying attention. It has been around since 1987, and does the worthy things City guilds are supposed to do, such as education and training. It even has its own apprenticeships. All very modern meets ancient.
But I was baffled by the crest - why didn't it have aerials sticking out of it, or at least a screen on the shield? Not done, the guild's brochure informed me. Heraldry is a much subtler business.
The bloke in the middle is Mercury, the messenger. He "embodies communication in which information technologists excel". The stars symbolise the "rapid dissemination of information and knowledge". The key in the middle is, of course, data storage, and even the colours are significant: gold conducts electricity, blue is electricity and green is video. Obvious, isn't it? And the motto? Well, Cito means "swiftly" in Latin and it also includes the company's initials, the brochure says. Clever, eh?Reuse content