Rating your Kiwi Childhood: Going to the local dairy with $2

Rating your Kiwi Childhood is all about looking back on your formative experiences as a little kid in the 1980s and a bigger kid in the 1990s. This week, Adam Mamo tackles the joy of going to the local dairy with $2.

Every suburban kiwi kid had a local dairy growing up. Much like European coffee houses of the 17th century, the local dairy was a community hub where kids could hang out front, share Spaceman candy cigarettes and free thought, eat ice-creams and debate schoolyard politics. In this deep dive into suburban dairies, we’ll discuss virtues and vices and ultimately rate the milk out of them.

Pros:

Mixture lollies – Never has a $2 coin wielded as much power as it did in the grubby little hands of a kid going for a two buck lolly mix. There were two options available: let the owner pick your mix and risk getting crusty cough lollies and mint leaves, or dictate the action. “I’ll have five Pineapple lumps, okay… and seven jet planes, okay… and 20 cents worth of snifters… And how much am I up to now?” The shopkeeper performs scratchy additions in their head as they reach for a second little white bag. Good times.

Arcade Machines – The late 1980s through mid 1990s were a golden era for street arcade video gaming in New Zealand, and local dairies played a key role. The introduction of one or two spacies machines out front changed the vibe of local shops countrywide. It became more edgy with packs of hooded kids hunched over sticky joysticks, accusing each other of “the cheaps” and occasionally, someone got hit with a skateboard. Even good kids were pinching coins from neighbour’s milk bottles for their fix of Street Fighter 2. Gaming then moved into our lounges and tales of the spacies machines faded into folklore.

Dirty Mags – You’d never even consider buying one, and only the baddest kid would de-shelf one for a thumbing, but looking at the rack was free. In the dark ages before internet smut, magazines were king and the dairy was the crown palace. Sneaky lads would keep a keen eye on the recycling bins out back, waiting for the day when unsold magazines had their titles cut and were thrown out.

Pies – Before your local dairy invested in a pie warmer, snacks were limited to cold options, but then the game changed and a hot feed was available before school, and anytime after. Forget the questionable meat quality and grab that last Big Ben Mince and Cheese before all that’s left is the Chicken and Vege – nasty.

Cons:

High prices – You’re all out of Lynx Africa deodorant. Well just get some from the dairy, it’ll only cost about a million dollars. Convenience comes at a price and a healthy markup has always been the prerogative of the kiwi dairy. It doesn’t matter if the product is faded and dusty. If you’re desperate enough, you’ll buy it. Anything more than a Crunchie bar, you’re gonna get stung.

Being someone’s house – Is it a shop? Or is it someone’s house? That line is often blurred at the dairy. It can be a little awkward with three generations of shopkeepers glaring at you from the other side of the beaded curtain, but hey, their dinner always smelled better than yours.

Getting treated like a criminal – From the moment you trigger the electronic chime on the way in to the moment you trigger it on the way out, you were under suspicion. Some kid pinched a packet of Tim Tams two years ago and now everyone’s a potential threat. An elaborate set up of circular mirrors tracks your every move and you know that Grandma is just hanging out to break her broom over your back.

Near expired items – Unlike the supermarket, dairies push it pretty close on expiration dates. There probably isn’t a kid in New Zealand that wasn’t growled out at least once for lazily grabbing the milk from the front of the fridge and ending up with a two-litre that expired the next day.

Seven out of ten Garbage Pail Kids Kards

Rating: 7 out of 10

A lot more character than the sterile convenience stores you find overseas and able to withstand the Star Mart challenge of the early 2000s. Not as clean, well ordered, or as consistently priced as a convenience store. But the local dairy was more than just a shop, it was a cultural experience, a place where heroes were made and any kid with a couple of bucks could be someone.

Related:

Rating your Kiwi childhood: the pros and cons of Saturday morning sport

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