ONE THIRD OF A PINT A DAY
One of the less attractive memories of my own school-days way back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper and teachers looked really big was to do with milk, and today in Mrs Miggins' Pie Shop (well, the Black Bull, actually, but Blackadder's Mrs Miggins fits the bill) during a few moments of discussing health matters the subject cropped up.
My wife doesn't like milk, yet an osteoporosis specialist nurse who she had to see earlier this week said she really ought to drink more of the stuff. She needs the calcium, you see, or her bones might get unpleasantly weak. And milk is a really good source of the metal.
But before I continue, let me refresh your memories about school milk. After the second world war had raged round the world between 1939 and 1945 there was a great deal of deprivation in many countries, and we in the UK were far from immune. That war had cost the country just about everything and brought it to the brink of bankruptcy, and the people suffered as a consequence. As in most walks of life, when there is suffering it's the poor who suffer the worst because they are less capable of cushioning themselves against deprivation than the well-heeled.
In 1946 under Clement Attlee (the Prime Minister) Parliament enacted that all children and young persons under the age of 18 and still at school should be issued with one third of a pint of milk each day. The intention was to nip malnutrition in the bud there and then, and it was a damned good idea.
But it had its downside.
Sometimes, in winter, the milk (in 1/3 pint bottles) was frozen and teachers got in the habit of placing the bottles on or near a classroom radiator in order to thaw it.
The only trouble, though, came when you consider the use of my word â€œhabitâ€. A habit started for the very best of reasons becomes an automatic custom, and when warmer weather comes the last thing milk needs is to be warmed up. It starts degrading as bacteria multiply, and it becomes sour. It can make a young child's stomach heave. It can be the cause of copious quantities of curdled vomit. It can put a child off the idea of drinking milk for the remainder of his or her days.
And as I've said, milk is a primary source of calcium.
Now, Dorothy (to give my wife her rightful name) has a slight problem with her bones, a problem that may not have come along had she supped milk like fat old men sup beer. But she doesn't like the stuff because trapped really deep in her memories is the image of bottles standing near a radiator and turning from fresh cool milk into vomit. You see, back in the glory days of our childhoods if teachers told you to do something then you usually did it because you were taught to respect every damned thing they said, and if they told you to drink that milk, then drink it you did.
Of course, it was normally excellent, but sometimes it wasn't. I suspect that very occasionally the dairy redelivered yesterday's unwanted bottles, and they would have been already turning from good to bad before they even saw the classroom radiator. It happened in loads of schools because just as my good lady can remember that wretched milk when she was being educated in one county, so can I who was being educated in another.
The net result, though, is that Dorothy has spent a lifetime not liking milk (she only has the smallest splash of it in her tea), and if she isn't careful she might be well on her way to suffering from osteoporosis. And that isn't funny.
So there we have a tale of consequences. A free food supplement for school children in the post-war years has proved to have consequences quite contrary to the intention behind it. I wonder just how many osteoporosis sufferers today can rightly point a finger of blame at a single bottle of repulsively sour milk they felt they had to drink when they were seven and not brave enough to refuse it? And how much is the NHS paying now in calcium supplements to men and women who may well have adopted healthier habits in the milk arena had they not felt obliged to make themselves unpleasantly sick on over-ripe milk?
Maybe not many, but it is a thought, isn't it?
Â© Peter Rogerson 28.04.11