On my walk today I met a dog called Tulip so now Tulip has become the name of Mr Shoeberry’s Clydesdale in my current work in progress. Mr Shoeberry is my fictitious milkman.
I remember the clip, clop of hooves on the road before dawn and the clinking of milk bottles as the empty ones were collected and new ones put into wire baskets at everybody’s gate. Then the milkman’s command to his horse and it would walk onto the next stop in their delivery. The horse knew exactly when and where to go. In the same big basket of memories from that era is the horse drawn baker’s cart and the smell of fresh bread that would be delivered through a special hatch in our kitchen wall. There was a small door on the outside and another on the inside just above our kitchen sink. There was nothing quite as lovely as biting into that warm, crusty bread which had not long before come straight from the baker’s oven. My family was big on condensed milk, (I think this was because we were Chinese and often condensed milk was substituted for real milk in Asian countries like Hong Kong), so instead of jam, that’s what we would use as a spread. Then there was the ice cart which would be full of great blocks of ice. The iceman wore a leather apron and would hoist a huge chunk of ice with a pick onto his shoulder where a burlap sack was draped. Then he would deliver it to homes who didn’t have refrigerators. Us neighbourhood children would follow in his wake because we knew that if we were patient he would give us chips of ice to suck on. It was a scene from one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. I also remember the postman on his red framed bicycle. He was a lovely rotund fellow with two fat cheeks who looked a little like Hardy from Laurel and Hardy. He had a small moustache and wore a special postman’s hat and uniform.
Since the beginning of writing and planning this novel I knew there was going to be a scene with the milkman. But he didn’t come to life until I named his horse Tulip.
After spending most of last year in lockdown because of Covid, my novel hardly advanced at all, especially the writing part. I realise now how important meeting people, getting out and about and seeing new things are to my writing.
My writing is nurtured and inspired by the everyday things that happen. The smallest encounter, like meeting a black greyhound called Tulip in the park can be the spark that will blossom inside my story.