Trevor Culling is the neighbourhood’s silent and often invisible friend, delivering milk to door steps around Roman Road when the rest of the world is sound asleep.
In his 17 and a half years as a milkman, Culling has only had one day off. ‘It’s not a job where you can wake up and hear the rain against the window and go, oh I’ll have a day off. You can’t ‘cause you’re letting too many people down’, he says stoically.
Perched in the milk float listening to the stirrings of early morning rush hour, Culling’s northern accent cuts through the silence. Although you wouldn’t know it to listen to him, he has been a part of the local community since 1979 when he moved to East London, and hasn’t looked back since.
For some, the image of milk bottles sitting on the doorstep will conjure a nostalgic trip down memory lane. However, Parker Dairies have made sure to move with the times. While maintaining tradition, they have diversified trade by selling a range of goods, including bread and strangely, compost for the garden.
With people becoming more plastic conscious, business for Culling has taken an upturn. Roman Road led the way with its borrow-a-bag scheme and groups such as Plastic Free Roman Road. Now green thinking has reached the local dairy industry too, with an increasing number of people reverting to reusable glass bottles.
Taking note of the demand for vegan-friendly choices, Parker Dairies now also offer plant based milk options. They’ve even entered entered the digital era with a website allowing customers to make their orders online and choose days for delivery.
With the milk round running with the predictability of a Swiss watch, Culling has taken on the role of night watchman. While most of us are tucked up in bed, he takes it upon himself to cast a watchful eye, acting as a silent protector of the community.
‘You’re looking around all the time, watching to see what’s going on. Every time you get off you’re looking about to make sure nobody is about and if there is somebody about keeping an eye on ‘em’, he says.
While a handful of Culling’s regulars have been putting in orders since the day he started, he is yet to meet them all. He reassures me, however, that solitude is a perk of the job, ‘I like working on my own. I prefer it.
‘Sometimes you don’t see a lot of people, you can go hours on end without seeing anybody cause you know, we’re in the streets from half two.’
That’s not to say Culling hasn’t become a familiar face. When it comes to friendships with fellow early risers, however, there are a different set of rules at play. Words are seldom required and being on a first name basis is a rarity.
Culling is instead known by the sight or sound of his milk float, with street cleaners and commuters similarly defined by their jobs. ‘I see the same people now and again, a few street cleaners have a little wave, get to see the same people going to work.’
Roman Road’s oldest cafe, Randolfi’s, also features in one of Culling’s few interactions. ‘I take his milk in there and he always gives us a couple slices of toast and I’ll eat them while I finish off’, Culling recounts.
These photographs were taken by Roman Road LDN citizen journalist Tom Keeling. Keeling is studying Documentary Photography at UAL and currently works at Paradise Cycles on Roman Road. You can see more of Keeling’s work at his website and on Instagram.
If you enjoyed this, you may like to read about the life of a local monk.
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