The first ice-cream van of the year has just come yodelling up my cul-de-sac, very late on a Sunday evening. Ice-cream, which has of course, little ice or cream in it – a minimum of 5% milk fat, whatever that may be, as I understand it – is still in an agreeably primitive state of evolution when you get it from a van. It’s off-white and wet. It doesn’t offer you that terrifying choice you get in super-scooper shops, which may offer you every shade under the sun (or, at any rate, patches of cloud): rum-and-raisin, pistachio, bacon-and-egg, vodka-and-tonic …
I find myself once again thinking about choice. Perhaps the 1950s have percolated me more than I thought. Essentially, the opportunity then extended from vanilla (which for many years I thought was a synonym for ‘white’), strawberry, or chocolate, the latter two of which struck this sour-puss as being too sweet. But an exception had to be made for that occasional rarity, the Neapolitan, in which a tri-coloured brick, with each of three regulars present, was on offer. It looked too edible to resist.
The bad news when I was a kid was the wafer. Ice-creams came in cones, of course, but also, quite regularly, as a filling for a wafer sandwich, something you just don’t see any more. I’ve never eaten wafer, or rather, never enjoyed eating it. It is presumably just very thin biscuit, although there are some exotic variants to be found on the web. I can remember when I first had a Mr. Whippy, though, which doubtless was even less creamy, but which had a fabulous texture. And I can also remember what I suspected was a post-war invention, the ’99’, but which apparently goes back at least to 1930, and arguably earlier. What they also had, also gone, was a smaller and cheaper version, called a ’66’.
But I’ve always been an ice-lolly fan – and no, not including the dreaded Mivvi – and I would like it if ice-cream vans served up sorbets (a more ancient and cleansing affair). But then I am old and starting to be gentrified (ha ha). And although I am not an ice cream fan, really, my whole childhood is suffused in memory with sitting in small caffs, eating ice-cream, and listening to the bewildering harmonies of ‘I Get Around’. Ice cream is not food. It’s just a key to the sounds and other sensory experiences of being under five feet high.