Soft Ice Cream Seller – Dire Experience!

Long ago, while still a student and still doing what students do, i.e getting a job at the start of the long holiday to garner some money for the obligatory hitch-hike to southern Europe, I landed a job selling soft-icecream from a van.

I thought I had landed in heaven, a job where I was out and about all day long, as much soft-icecream as I could eat and getting paid for all of this pleasure.

To add to this was the fact that I got this job immediately after being fired from my job in a sweet factory (see story here), so I really thought the gods were smiling upon me.

I was right, and also very wrong, as you will see.

I got the job from the labour exchange, and was told to report to the depot the following day early in the morning, which I duly did.

I was given a very friendly reception and I was introduced to my mobile workplace, how it all worked, the cleaning schedule – hygiene was of the highest importance I was told with icecream especially the soft variety, as it bred germs at a rate of knots given half a chance,

My van was really rather impressive, a Ford Transit with a couple of those machines which ooze soft icecream in a rather disgusting manner as well as a large fridge for ice-lollies and other frozen goodies, and most important of all, the set of chimes, which in my case was a rather nasty version of Greensleeves that played only the first couple of bars over and over again – I would come to HATE Greensleeves before I finished this particular job!


This isn’t the van I had (obviously), but it was pretty much the same as this one.

Before they would let me loose on the public, I also had to be taught how to dispense soft icecream properly, to get just the right twiddle on it as it oozed onto the top of the cone, a real skill I discovered, how to ensure that the icecream was the correct temperature to be soft, and not rock hard, or totally liquid.   How to give change and all the many arcane skills needed to be both the driver and server of such an icecream van.  And last but by no means least, i was shown the route I had to drive every day.

Not only the route, but at what times of the day I should be at any particular spot, as apparently it was of cardinal importance to always arrive at the same time of day every day, so one’s customers could plan their icecream consumption properly.   By the way, my route was so designed that I would make two rounds of it every day.  The implications of this small fact didn’t occur to me until much later, but turned out to be very worrisome I discovered.  More about that later.

So, armed with all this knowledge off I went on my first round one fine morning.   My round was mainly in a sort of working class housing estate on the edge of Crawley New Town, a town of amazingly little attractiveness I discovered.. Endless streets of identical small houses all with absolutely nothing to recommend them to me or any other human I could conceive of.

I arrived at my first stop, at the top of a small side street, hit the button to play my chimes (Greensleeves) for the first time, and settled back to see what would happen.

What happened was that a number of women and kids started coming out of the various houses, mostly armed with large bowls, which they gave to me, complete with very exact instructions as to which sort of soft icecream I should pour onto their bowls.

I had been warned that some people preferred to buy their icecream in bulk, and been taught how to calculate how many icecreams a bowl represented, so that I charged them a reasonable price for their litre or two of soft icecream.

All well and good I thought, and duly having dealt with their needs I moved on to my second parking place, where exactly the same thing happened…..  And so it went for my entire round.

That took my morning, so I parked and had my lunch (not icecream) and prepared to repeat my morning route all over again, thinking that I wouldn’t actually sell much, having I felt sold as much as I reasonably could to those good folk that morning.

To my amazement, and dawning horror, more or less the same people came out, with their bowls once more…    How much icecream can (and should) you eat in one day I thought…

This was the pattern for the rest of my first day.   More or less the same people came to me and bought another litre or two of soft ice from me.   So that meant that those families were apparently eating up to 4 litres of the stuff that day..  Not a nice thought.

And what made it even stranger was that the following day, and for the rest of the time I had that job, the same people came out every day, buying the same amount of soft ice.    Day after day, there were families on that housing estate who apparently consumed several litres every day!  I found this hard to cope with I have to admit.

Also, as the days went by, the idiotic chimes began to drive me mad as well….  Hearing the first few bars of Greensleeves played on what was apparently some sort of kid’s plastic piano really began to get under my skin..   I found myself dreaming to the accompaniment of that tune, it followed me around for weeks after I stopped working with that soft ice.  In fact, some 67 years after finishing that job I still react badly to the opening bars of Greensleeves.

Funnily enough, unlike fudge, which I simply couldn’t face eating for many years after having made 40 tons of it (see the link above about my time in a sweet factory), I was able to eat and enjoy soft ice after only a period of several months after finishing this job.    And still do, on rare occasions.

Share with us:

Did you have any similar, scary, entertaining, pleasing or in any other manner interesting jobs as a student?   If you did, please do share your stories about them with us here…  Fun to read about other folk’s lives I find.

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