SMOKE: Got Milk?

Originally published: 9 September 2005

I've had a weird relationship with milk over the years.

I wasn't crazy about it as a kid, although my mother made brilliant drinks called Brown Cows, which consisted of a glass with three-quarters Coke and one quarter milk.

I could never drink them now as the concept of the Coke curdling the milk in my stomach is a little too insane for me to handle.

That may seem like strong sentiment but it comes from my Bad Milk Experience, which happened during that hot, hot summer of 1993.

I was in my first year out of varsity and I'd just landed my first proper acting job. It was a schools tour, which meant I had to walk from my flat in Gardens all the way down the mountain to the Nico Malan arts centre on the foreshore (a hefty walk and one which I was forced to make because I had no transport), where we took a kombi and drove out into the Peninsula, to the various schools.

In the afternoon we would be dropped back at the Nico Malan and I would have to walk back home - this time up the mountain - and it was a torturous, hot walk.

At the bottom of my road was a corner cafe. One day I stopped there after my walk and bought a half-litre of milk - one of those Dairybelle ones, in a carton.

The milk was ice-cold and went down more than easily on the little stretch of hill from the cafe to my house. Thus began a daily routine of milk-drinking, which lasted almost to the end of that summer.

At some stage I had an extra milk, which I opened but didn't want, and I left it in my fridge for later. I forgot about it that day and the next day I got home and was delighted to find it still there.

Without pausing to even check it I poured half the contents down my parched throat, and there it stuck - it was almost solid it was so sour. Huge bits of yellowing, curdled, porridge-like milk slipped down my throat, and at the same moment the smell hit me in the face.

My horror at what had transpired was immense. I've never been able to tolerate even the tiniest, faint sniff of milk going off - it has to be fresh, fresh, fresh and cold as ice.

Not only was this milk so off it had curdled, but it was room temperature as well. The double-whammy almost knocked me out when I realised what had happened to me, and it was many years before I even touched the stuff again.

Turns out my electricity had been cut the previous night, which I hadn't noticed in the morning. That milk had been sitting in a hot fridge all night and day and my apartment was slap-bang in the middle of a little pocket-like bowl, which stored all the heat from the city below and turned the place into an oven.

I retched milk for weeks in my dreams, and had to stop drinking tea for a while. It's the only time in my life I haven't drunk tea (coffee can stuff off, as far as I'm concerned - too many hungover mornings drinking lukewarm cups of too-strong Spur coffee will damage you for life, as it did me).

Although I'm back to my old tea-drinking ways I've never had a glass of milk since then. I've been tempted to, but I find those open refrigerators they keep milk in in supermarkets don't keep the milk cold enough for my liking.

I thank my lucky stars I wasn't born on a farm - the concept of milking cows of warm milk is not particularly attractive to me. I have no interest in stories of ruddy farm lads who get their squirt of milk of a morning straight from the engorged teat of a heifer - that shit just ain't right, man.

These days all I drink is flavoured milk and only because they always have such impressive expiry dates, years into the future.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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