(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – January 2022)
“Five more minutes. Pleeeaaase?”
I must have used that plea more than any in my sixty-three years on this planet. It’s become an almost instinctive response when I’m reminded that time is pressing and really should be doing something else, somewhere else.
I no longer even hear myself say it, but my wife is convinced that when the Grim Reaper comes calling, I’ll still be bargaining for “just another five more minutes.” And who wouldn’t, let’s be honest.
She also asserts my habitual tardiness will see me late for my own funeral. I’d hate to disappoint, so it’ll actually be written in my final instructions, that the hearse delay arriving at the church or wherever. Remember this if you plan coming. There’s no need to rush that cup of coffee before leaving your home – especially if it’s a cold or wet day (which it won’t be, by the way.) Just take it easy.
Sorry, I’ve gone really early with the digression on this post.
Anyway, the origins of this now habitual phrase stem, I believe, from the winter months of my early years. It was developed as a counter to that dreaded call from my parents:
“Time for bed!”
It was a stalling ploy – at least, so I hoped.
You see, I’d been promised somebody special was coming, but they had not yet arrived. They’d be here any time now. Five more minutes. Pleeeaaase?
Well – if you don’t ask, you don’t get, right?
So my dad would strike a bargain. If I went to bed ‘right now’ like a good little boy and left him in peace to watch the latest episode of ‘The Saint,’ then he’d buy me a pack of ‘The Man From UNCLE’ bubblegum cards when the ice-cream van came down the street.
And off to bed I’d go, eventually drifting into a blissful sleep dreaming of a packet with no ‘swapsies,’ but containing that elusive # 43 card everyone in class was yearning.
Yes, the Ice-Cream Man, or ‘Icey’ as we knew him played a huge part in our, early lives. In the winter months, he’d generally arrive under cover of mid-evening darkness – probably because he had another daytime job, or simply because there was little custom to be had through the day.
Though I forget it now, we all then knew the ‘Icey’ by his surname. He was a kindly gent as I recall, and always obliged, when having been sent out by Mum, I asked:
“Ten Embassy tipped please. And …. do you have any broken biscuits, please, Mr (Whoever)?’
I’m sure every kid on the route asked the same. Poor guy. I even witnessed him breaking up wafers and cones deliberately for me.
He sold all sorts. From delicious, soft ‘Mr Whippy’ type ice-cream (with raspberry sauce, of course) through bubblegum card packs, cigarettes, to chocolate and all kinds of ha’penny / four to a penny sweets. Of course, there were also the spectacularly coloured ice lollies such as ‘Fab’ and ‘Zoom,’ and on Saturdays, he’d also have a supply of the ‘Pink’ a newspaper with the day’s football results and reports.
During the school summer holidays, though, even making an extra afternoon visit round the local streets, he’d face competition. That came in the form of the ‘branded’ ice cream seller – in our case, Walls.
The Walls man differed in many ways and though our unsophisticated vocabulary of the time couldn’t express it so succinctly, I think all us kids regarded him somewhat an interloper.
His van was smaller, more like a conventional car, but with a raised section at the rear to house the fridges. I always harboured the impression it was based on an American model, with the driver / seller wearing a red and white shirt and sometimes a small white cap. Maybe though the latter detail has been implanted in my memory from watching U.S. based television sitcoms based in 1960s Diners.
The Walls ice cream differed from that of the other ‘icey,’ in that it came in blocks. Wrapped blocks, if I remember correctly. How many young tears do you think were shed over a treat dropped onto the pavement as it was being unwrapped?
Even more unconventional were the biscuit ‘cones’ used by walls. I was pretty rubbish at maths (actually, make that ‘totally’ rubbish) but I’m fairly certain a ‘cone’ was circular at the top and not rectangular. I suppose once they were committed one of the two, the other had to follow. Whatever, they were a nightmare to eat – the made-up phrase ‘square cone and round mouth’ comes to mind.
Granted, the blocks were a better option than the soft stuff if you were one of these weird folk that preferred your ice cream to be to be sandwiched between two individual wafers.
Then there was also a third means of serving up the frozen dessert, one that was favoured by the ‘icey’ who passed my Gran’s house; scooped. Falling somewhere in consistency between the poured ‘Mr Whippy’ sort, and the rock hard block of Walls, it was reasonably adaptable in its serving. It did though have the unfortunate look of the mashed potato slapped down beside your beef olive by the school dinner lady. Of course that was easy sorted by another liberal addition of raspberry sauce, but the use of gravy coloured chocolate sauce would not have helped ease that initial impression
It was at my Gran’s house too, that I first clapped eyes on an ‘oyster.’ This was a very mysterious delicacy indeed, because only the adults got one. Whenever I asked, I still ended up with a cone. Tight wads, my family!
I was about nineteen before I sampled my first one and true enough, this was too good for kids! Scooped ice cream held between twin oyster shaped biscuits that had been dipped in chocolate, and coconut, with a soft, gooey, sweet mallow filling.
And then there was the ‘double nougat’ – ice cream sandwiched between two wafers, the edges of which had been coated in chocolate and then injected with a similar mallow fill.
Of course, an ice cream van wasn’t only identified by the goodies it sold. Neither was it the cartoon characters adorning the bodywork that necessarily distinguished one from another. No – the idea was to announce the impending arrival on your street by sound, rather than sight. To this end, each ‘icey’ played their own distinguishable tinny, high-end chimes, giving plenty time for kids to pester parents into supplementing that week’s pocket money. One van would use ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic,’ as their rallying call; another, ‘Greensleeves,’ others maybe ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ or ‘You Are My Sunshine.’
Undoubtedly, the peak of my excitement at a visit from an ‘icey’ would have been as a kid, pre-1974. And this is significant, because prior to the ‘Control of Pollution Act, 1974’ there were no restrictions placed on vans playing these tunes.
However, under Section 62 of the act, action could be taken if chimes are ‘sounded after 7pm in the night time, or before 12pm (Midday), or if they are sounded at anytime as to cause an annoyance.’ (I believe the legal maximum volume for this is 80 decibels from 7.5 metres, and they must be played for no longer than 12 seconds – and only while the vehicle is stationary.)
So – lying in my bed, having lost the ‘five more minutes’ argument, I would often hear a van arrive in the neighbouring estate, across the railway line that divided us.
I would wonder who the ‘icey’ was trying to entice to part with their money for the treats he could offer. Would some of my school chums have been allowed to stay up late for his visit?
I would stress. Would he play his tune down my street? And when?
Of course he did. And my ol’man wold be true to his word and buy me some ‘Man From UNCLE’ bubblegum cards.
Because you know what – to slightly bastardise John Donne’s words that would centuries later inspire the title to one of Hemingway’s masterpieces:
‘…. never send to know for whom the bell chimes; it chimes for thee.’
4 thoughts on “for whom the bell chimes”
I’d forgotten about the ‘Walls’ van and its Americanisation. I think they were the guys who sold an ice cream with a gob-stopper in it too?
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I remember an ice cream with a ‘gobbie’ at the bottom, it was served in a plastic cone which after we were done eating we would turn upside down and pretend it was a Dalek.
Our local icey was Mr Whippy and it was always the Greensleeves tune.
Apart from a 99, one of my faves in the late 70s was an ice loll that came with skateboard collector cards, I think it was cola flavoured.
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Yeah – I remember that one with the gobstopper! Can’t recall the name or who produced it, but it made the ice cream turn a funny colour! Mr Whippy was definitely the best – I don’t recall seeing too many here in the Glasgow area – my memories of that ice cream are mainly from holidays in England.
Skateboard cards?! That’s pretty rad, man! First wave skateboard was a pretty niche target market … but well cool! (Pun half intended. 😉
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