This afternoon, while debating the pros and cons of getting out of a warm bed I heard the distant call of the first Ice Cream van of the year, This seemed particularly bizarre juxtaposed with the snow falling outside my window. With nothing better to do it started me thinking about my brief career as an ice cream "man".
I would have been 18, and had just finished screwing up my A levels. I needed a holiday job, prior to going off to a University desperate enough to enroll me (That turned out to be a post Toxteth Riots torn Liverpool Polytechnic!). Most of my friends were working in various fast food joints at Alton Towers, who this year had declined to use my services. My dad spotted an advert for a job driving an Ice Cream round. I had passed my driving test only a few months earlier so it seemed the ideal way to earn money and hone my new skills! After the shortest of interviews, accompanied by my dad, and with some judicious lying about the extent of my driving experience I was taken on. I had to cycle the 8 miles to the depot in Uttoxeter. Ashmore's Ice Cream was known throughout our part of Staffordshire, and their Ice cream enjoyed a good reputation. I looked at the shiny curvy vans, with their colourful paintwork, parked in a row. There bodywork was curved and fluted to mirror the soft peaks of an ice cream cone. Inside the vans I could see the gleaming workings of the ice cream machines that would dispense with a flourish, a beautifully formed swirl onto each cone. Then I was shown my Bedofrd Ice Cream van... It was box shaped and bright blue. It seemed to be an unhappy marriage of fibreglass and wood. It was clearly never intended to be anything as exotic as an ice cream van. It looked as out of place against the modern vans, as a Rag & Bone cart in a royal procession. Even morre disappointingly there was no sign inside of a whippy ice cream machine, just some small chest freezers. There would be no flourishing for me. It was just deserts though. It was as close to being an ice cream van, as I was to being an experienced van driver. We were a good match. Thankfully, the first day I was to go out with Ian, who would show me the ropes. Ian was a few years older than me a didn't seem thrilled at the prospect of babysitting the rookieit was a bit like those buddy cop movies. He was the hard bitten, cynical, Ice Cream vendor, who had seen it all before. I was the young, eager, but naive rookie, with the idealistic view of the frozen dairy trade. This mismatched partnership could never work. However, just like Hollywood, by the end of the day, this couple found a grudging mutual respect.
It had been an easy enough first day. Ian showed me the route of my round, while I dispensed the ice cream at each stops. The ice cream was stored in tubs in the freezers, alongside the various ice lollies, and was dispensed by a common kitchen ice cream scoop. There was not much to learn about the range of wares. 2 sizes of cones, a shell shaped wafer, and a box of Cadburry's Flakes for the obligatory 99's. It may have been primitive and basic, by the standards of the Mr Whippy vans, but the quality of the ice cream made up for it. When the day was over I was confident I was up to the job.
The next day I was on my own. My previous confidence had deserted me. As low as it was it took a further dip as soon as I started out. The truth was the biggest vehicle I had driven up to then had been my dad's Ford Sierra. I managed to reverse the van exactly 12 feet before I hit the wall of the yard, denting the rear bodywork. I can't really say it detracted from the overall shabby look of the van. Anyway I managed to hit the road without hitting anything else.
Over the next week I got into the swing of my round. I also made the discovery that I had a choice of chimes. My van had an electronic chime, not quite in the usual tradition. I could choose from about 50 chimes, including some film themes. So that week I sold ice creams to the melodies of "Star Wars", "Superman", "The Great Escape", "The Magnificent Seven" and more innapropriately "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". When I say sold ice creams, I may be exaggerating! The following factors were combining to thwart my efforts as an ice cream mogul. The weather was miserable for a January, and this was in June! My round consisted of a succession of picturesque , but sadly sparsely populated villages. My van did nothing to help attract customers, who were more likely to bring me their rubbish rather than rush out for an ice cream.. My vehicle was so mechanically unsound that I had to plan my route to where I could top up with water to stop the thing overheating. Every time the thing overheated the freezers failed, and the Ice creamtook on the consistency of lumpy sour milk! The one insurmountable barrier throughout, was me. I am no more cut out for a career in sales than I am for a career in ballet. Kids would come up to the van asking for a 99 with all the trimmings and then offer about half the price. As a one time fat kid (and now time fat adult) I always felt empathy with a fiscally deficient, slightly chubby, Ice Cream hungry kid. Of course this made no business sense. I was on commission and by the end of that first week, I had earned myself, barely enough, to keep a closeted TV teenager in tights! The boss showed me undeserved generosity and made my wages up, but I could tell he was regretting hiring me already.
The second week was barely an improvement. At one point a nice lady took pity on me and brought me out coffee and biscuits. I really thought she hadn't grasped the vendor / customer dynamic, but it was really sweet of her. Towards the end of the second week, fearing the sack, I turned to a more aggressive marketing strategy. I deviated off the route to my school town of Cheadle and parked myself on the school bus park, at final bell time. Although I actually did some starting business that afternoon, I incurred the wrath of the regular, and authentically Italian Ice Cream man, who's pitch was just around the corner. I was served with double cone of bilingual expletives with a sprinkling of Sicillian threats. I did think afterwards that he did have a point as this was his livelyhood and I would most likely spend my earnings on chocolate, tights and Lego. After that second week of poor sales, I decided my career in commerce was over and I quit.
The only things I had to show for my enterprise were a 10 Flake a day habit, and a collection of Italian swear words!
A Lego model of my van. Uncannily accurate apart from the fancy faring on the roof. Courteousy of the amazing http://www.brothers-brick.com/