The way I work: Simon Hide

The Sheffield milkman describes the mysterious process that leads to you waking up with your daily pinta outside the door

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My working day officially starts between eight and nine at night when I leave home at Beighton in south east Sheffield and collect my milk from Hillsborough Dairies on the other side of the city. But long before then I am effectively working.

Orders keep coming in on my mobile, sometimes relentlessly. People leave voicemail, send texts, use WhatsApp and Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, you name it. Although I try to have a cut-off for orders about 10pm I still receive messages at one or two in the morning saying: “Si, if you’re passing can I have yogurts, can I have a dozen eggs?” It’s so different to when I first started delivering milk and folks just left a note in an empty bottle on the doorstep.

My first round was helping the local milkman when I was growing up in Hampshire. I come from a large family – seven sisters and four brothers, enough for a football team – so I needed to earn my pocket money. When I left school I went into working with people who had learning disabilities. That’s how I met my wife, Julie, who was manager of a couple of homes. I got married when I was 19 and became a full-time milkman with Unigate but left to be a house husband when our first child was born. I always say that in this case the baby really was the milkman’s.

Julie came from Sheffield and wanted to move back north, so when we finally did that I returned to care work for a while, then did a variety of jobs with Asda before becoming a milkman again, this time with the Co-op but later as team leader and assistant manager at Norton. Eventually I bought my own round.

I don’t have anything to eat before I set off. My milk round is literally fuelled by cups of coffee and roll-up cigarettes. It’s grown and grown to the point where I now have nearly 700 calls. In my early days in Sheffield I started at three in the morning, then it became two. When I went self-employed I had to start at midnight, but since then it’s come forward again because people’s lifestyles have changed and they expect milk on their doorsteps by the time they get up, which may be very early.

I became a house husband when our first child was born. In this case the baby really was the milkman’s

A lot of milkmen use open-backed pickups but I lease a Ford Transit from the dairy. I cover nearly 80 miles a night, including going up and down all the side roads. My round has steadily increased in size and covers a really wide area. I start at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in Broomhill because some of the staff are customers. From there I work through places like Fulwood and Bents Green, then Whiteley Wood, Eccleshill, Greystones and all that area, then across to Nether Edge and Heeley. A lot of business comes through recommendations so I’ve extended over to Crosspool as well as Totley and Dore, then the other way to Killamarsh, but there’s a limit to what one person can do. Some of my customers are well-known musicians, footballers and politicians.

Goats milk, soy milk and almond milk are regular requests because I’ve had to adapt to people’s needs. My eggs, yogurt and bread are popular, then there’s fizzy pop and mineral water in glass. At the moment I’m doing 4,000-5,000 glass bottles a week. I do some milk in plastic but after that David Attenborough TV programme earlier this year about plastics harming wildlife there was a big surge in interest for bottled milk. This surprises some folks but I also deliver garden compost, bags of rock salt in winter and even toilet rolls.

One new line that’s really taken off is A2, a speciality milk that originated in Australia for people who have milk digestion issues. The protein that triggers symptoms like bloating, skin irritations and eczema has been filtered out. It’s in some supermarkets but as far as I know I’m the only milkman in the UK delivering it to the doorstep.

I like it when everything’s tranquil out there, especially when I see badgers and foxes and when there’s a full moon so I don’t need a torch. I’m not fond of school holidays if a lot of kids are still walking around in the middle of the night up to god knows what. I tend to park up in a street and switch off the ignition because it’s just not on to leave my engine running when people are asleep. In winter it’s sometimes not possible to drive up Sheffield’s steep roads and streets so I park at the bottom and take off with a crate of milk. It’s pretty tough going when the ground is slippery.

I keep an eye on the forecast and some of my customers have started calling me the weatherman because they know it’s going to be bad weather if they get their milk early. A big dairy from outside Yorkshire has recently provided some competition but they deliver just two times a week whereas I’m out six nights. They used canvassers to drum up their rounds but when people need to get in touch they find they’re onto a call centre in Scotland. Most of my customers know me by name and I speak to a lot on the phone.

Eighteen months ago my wife died after a long battle with stomach cancer. I suspended my milk round for five weeks and I’m glad to say my customers stuck with me. When I went back to it I found the roads were long, dark and lonely at times and for a time my heart wasn’t in it. I wear a Fitbit, so I know I walk the equivalent of three marathons a week. Since last November I’ve been doing it with a double hernia.

When I get home about eight in the morning I have my one big meal of the day, which might be a pie and chips or a fry-up, or sometimes a takeaway if I’m too tired to cook. Fortunately, the old method of collecting money has changed. I used to go knocking on doors for it after my round on a Friday but now a lot of customers pay by BACS into my bank.

I have two sons who are ADHD Aspergers, so when I do have my one day off a week – Saturday into Sunday – there’s a lot of catching up at home. And how’s this for a milkman’s holiday – my hobby is collecting die-cast models of milk floats, tankers and lorries. I’ve got about 400 now.

My younger son Nick wants to take over the reins, so possibly in the not too distant future I’ll set him up with the round under my guidance. It’s a career you either love or loathe. It’s good when the weather’s fine, but garbage when it isn’t. A pinta day might not keep the doctor away but it will make a milkman very happy.

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