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Tales From the Past | ‘The Cream’ – Part 3

On the second day of my solo ‘sales drive’ I rolled up for the ‘loading’ ceremony, parked the van and walked over to see the lads. George took me off to one side and gave me a few ideas for pitches. With that valuable information on board, as well as all the goods from Albert via Karl, I rolled off into the town to find them. Now, even though I’d lived around Newcastle for years I rarely got to see as much as I did during those few weeks on the ‘cream’. Some of the places George had told me about were just vague names on the map but I did my best to find them.

By the end of the morning I’d sold almost half the load and feeling the difference from the day before I didn’t bother stopping for lunch. On through the afternoon was just as good and well before five I’d sold out. I arrived back at the parlour early, much to Albert’s surprise. I off loaded the tub, handed over the cash and drove home, much happier altogether.

The rest of the week went just as well and every day saw me knocking off earlier than the rest of them. Albert still looked puzzled every time I turned up before the others but he was happy enough to take the money. By Thursday I thought I couldn’t lose. Wherever I stopped there’d be dozens of folk crowding round the van. Out went the cream and in came the money. That’s when Maria became more interested.

I’d just off loaded the tub, handed the cash over to Albert, who went off muttering to himself, and was on my way back to the van when she made her move. With Albert safely back inside the creamery she had sidled over to my van, just before I climbed back into it. She slid an arm across the door, holding on to the handle, preventing me opening it. Standing there she flexed the two fully loaded projectiles of her breasts straight at me and ran the tip of her tongue around her lips. It was a tricky moment.

Albert was in the creamery, behind the van. She was right in front of me, the van behind her and then she began to slowly writhe against it, licking her lips again with hooded eyes. I was on my own. What the hell was she doing? A stupid question I know but I reckoned I had seconds before she’d pounce. George saved the day. As she pushed herself from the van towards me a peal of chimes rang out and there was George driving towards us. Saved! She scuttled off as George pulled up and Albert appeared, wondering who was making the noise. A few minutes later George took me to one side for some fatherly advice.

‘Nivva get near that horny bitch,’ he said quite amicably. ‘If she gets the chance she’ll have ya troosars roond ya ankles and be at ya manhood. She’s the fastest fxck in the Universe an’ nasty with it.’

That is probably the most potent warning I’ve ever had from anyone about anything, ever. In the next few weeks I was very careful about having the van strategically between myself and Maria every time. I trundled off home, thankful for still having my ‘manhood’ intact.

I turned up as usual on Friday morning to see a line of glum faces. I thought Albert had been having a go at them all about something, he did that from time to time, but no, that hadn’t happened. I wondered what was up. George asked me how things were going. Apart from him rescuing me from the jaws, or worse, of Maria he’d only seen me briefly in the mornings and this was the first chance he’d had to see how I was getting on.

I told him things were going well, dropping the odd street name to him and generally talking about where I’d been. With every street I mentioned a head looked up from the group lounging next to the creamery. One by one, each one gave me a poisonous look and then they all stood up as one and walked purposefully over, surrounding me.

‘There’s one thing y’aalways do in this game!’ Limbo said.

‘An’ that’s keep t’ya own patch!’ said Squidge.

‘Aave been wondrin’ why me takin’s are doon!’ Drib stated, his face very close to mine.

‘An he’s not the ownly one!’ snarled Hole.

‘So,’ advised Ding-Dong menacingly, ‘y’d better get y’sell sorted oot, an’ quick!’

George pushed his great bulk forward before things got out of hand.

‘Calm doon, ye lot!’ he said. ‘How many times have ye done the same thing, ‘speshly ye, Squidge?’

They backed off but the expressions of fury remained the same. I did my best to apologise but it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. All of them, except George, ignored me until we had finished loading up and then they simply drove off without another word.

‘Nivva mind, kidda,’ George said. ‘They’ll come roond, ye’ll see.’

He pulled an old, worn map of Newcastle from his van and showed me where their patches were.

‘That’ll keep yer oot o’trouble,’ he said. ‘Now, look a’this. Why divvn’t y’try ower here.’

He pointed to a section on the west side of the city.

‘There’s another new howsin’ estate gannin’ up here,’ he said with a wink. ‘They’ve been building it for months. Lot’s of young families, lot’s o’kids. Ye’ll be aallreet ower there!’

‘But what about the rest of the lads?’ I asked. ‘I really don’t want to roll on to anyone’s patch again.’

‘Nee problem,’ George grinned at me. ‘They’ve aal got their own patches sown up. Regular customers. They won’t be wantin’ to lose them for new territory now. This one’s a new’en! Get in quick afore the ‘brickies’ move in!’

That’s exactly what I did. Good old George, he really knew the business. After another week I began to be recognised and some folk would wait for my arrival. Things were going well but it didn’t last. Just as George had suggested the ‘brickies’ did move in. It was halfway through the third week, on a bright and sunny afternoon, when I pulled in to one of the new streets and another van appeared at the other end of it. It was Billy Harris, the ‘brickie’ we’d met in the pub weeks earlier.

He must have spotted me at the same moment for his chimes started up immediately. I countered with mine and the air was full of garish ‘tinny’ music. We both rolled on towards each other, closer and closer, coming to a stop, bumper to bumper, the chimes still ringing out. It was almost like a gunfight of the old wild west. Two contenders slowly coming towards each other, neither prepared to lose ground or flinch from the confrontation.

Two groups of people stood on either side of us, all of them wondering what was going on but really only concerned about buying an ice cream. They looked on as Billy Harris and I glowered at each other through our windscreens. I ‘sat’ my ground as we both reached up and switched off our chimes. A few long, silent seconds ticked away and then Billy slowly climbed down from his van and walked arrogantly over to mine, pulling my door open.

‘Time’s up!’ he growled. ‘This is my patch! Get your heap, and that sloppy crap you’re sellin’ out of here, now!’

I looked down at him blankly and then swung my legs over to the door. He stepped back, planting his feet apart, arms coming up, hands forming into fists, looking as if he was ready to smack me one at any moment. I slid down to the ground thinking about what would be the best thing to say to take the heat out of the situation.

It was only then that I realised how short he actually was. He slowly looked up at me, jaw sagging, obviously rejecting what he’d meant to do. His hands went down to his sides, he brought his feet together and moved quickly back to his own van. As he reversed away up the street life returned to normal and I had a crowd of punters round the van, all wanting to be served first.

By five thirty I was almost sold out and made one last stop before driving back to the parlour. A short burst of the chimes was enough to bring a few folk out and as I served them an odd looking character sidled along the street in front of the van. A couple of minutes later he was still there but then turned as I happened to glance in his direction and crossed the street walking quickly away.

As the last of the customers waddled happily off with their purchases I slid the serving hatch shut and climbed back into the driving seat. Starting up and into gear, I pulled away but the steering didn’t respond at all. I stopped and climbed down to see if I could see what the problem might be. Both front tyres were as flat as pancakes!

One flat could have been unfortunate but two? That’s when I saw the matchsticks pushed into the valves of the tyres. These were no ordinary punctures. This was sabotage! Billy Harris drove past at that point, his chimes on full blast and a stupid grin on his face. It must have been him I’d seen earlier but I hadn’t recognised him without his white uniform on.

I trundled back to the Parlour hours after the others had arrived, off loaded and gone. Albert was not pleased. Neither was I and said so, loudly. It must have been one of the few occasions when anyone had answered back. He stood there, speechless and then stomped off to his flat above the Parlour.

I’d been able to borrow a foot pump from one of the families on the estate and after forty minutes of hard foot stamping had blown the tyres back up. The following morning, on my way in, I bought a foot pump, just in case. By the time I arrived at the Parlour the word had somehow flashed round everyone about what had happened

‘Who d’ye think it was?’ George asked.

‘There was no doubt in my mind.

‘Billy the Brick Harris,’ I said, and then told him of the confrontation I’d had before the tires mysteriously flattened themselves.

‘Interestin’, very interestin’,’ was all he said.

The other lads were just as concerned. Their annoyance from that previous business was now long forgotten and before we all drove away to our respective patches we swapped stories. Quite a bit of poaching was going on by all the brickies in the area. It wasn’t just happening to us either. Other vans, straight competitors of Albert’s like the Fantini Brothers, were having the same sort of trouble.

The rumour was going around that the brickies were trying to move into everyone’s territory. This had to be coming from the top as quite a lot of advertising of the brick variety of ice cream had been going on in the press and on TV just before it began. Then Albert came out in a rage finding us all still standing there

‘Get on with it!’ he yelled. ‘The bloody stuffs meltin’ while you’re all just standin’ there yackin!’

Karl and Maria were standing on either side of him, smirking as we broke up and walked off to our own vans. As I drove off I wondered if things might get out of hand if there was going to be a major invasion from the ‘brickies’. Only time would tell.

During the following week I became more and more adept at the business. My patch was now firmly established and as the cream rolled out across the serving hatch the money rolled in the other way. Everything was going very well, very well indeed. But, as these things usually go, it didn’t last. There were three incidents which put me in my place. The last two of them freaked Albert out completely.

The first happened back at home. The van was parked on the street and as I stepped out to start my working day, pulling my front door shut, I spotted someone peering in through the back window. I thought it might be an opportunist burglar so I crept round to the front of the van and waited. This character was now moving slowly along the side, examining everything inside and as he came to the drivers door I jumped on him, pinning him against it.

‘What’s your game, mate! I demanded.

‘Get yours hands off me!’ he blurted out, going red in the face.

‘Not until you tell me what you’re after, sunshine,’ I said, now quite fired up with the thought of catching someone red-handed, trying to break into the van.

‘After?’ he said. ‘What do you mean, after?’

‘Don’t play the innocent with me you little sod,’ I growled, taking hold of his lapels in both hands. ‘I saw you trying to find a way in.’

‘I was doing nothing of the kind,’ he said. ‘I was merely checking the interior of the vehicle. And would you mind letting go of my jacket?’

‘A likely story,’ I snarled.

‘Will you let me go this instant!’ he demanded, struggling against my grip.

‘Not until I find a copper!’ I sneered back at him.

I spun him round and, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, frog-marched him up the street. He was complaining all the way but as I turned the corner, lo and behold, there was a PC ambling towards us on his beat.

‘What’s all this then?’ he said as I came up to him, hanging on as tight as I could to my wriggling, protesting captive. ‘You all right Mr Fuller?’

‘You know this one?’ I asked, surprised.

‘Indeed I do sir,’ the PC grinned. ‘This is Mr Henry Fuller, District Health Inspector for these parts.’

Needless to say I had to apologise to him, much to the stifled amusement of the Policeman. Henry Fuller straightened his jacket and tried to regain his dignity, stepping away from me to the corner of the street.

‘Would you be wanting to report an assault, Mr Fuller?’ asked the Policeman, wryly.

‘No I do not’ he retorted, much to my relief. ‘But I would like, with your help officer, to examine in minute detail the condition of that vehicle.’

He pointed an ominous finger at the van.

‘Certainly sir,’ the Policeman replied, and turning to me he said, ‘Shall we go then?’

I unlocked the van and left him to it, standing with the Policeman on the pavement. He was in there for a good five minutes, poking about everywhere. When he finally emerged he was looking even more irritated than he had before.

‘Everything all right sir?’ the Policeman asked amiably.

‘It would appear so,’ Fuller snapped. ‘But make sure that spare tyre is covered up at all times in the future, young man!’

With a curt nod to the PC he walked briskly away, leaving the pair of us standing there.

When I told George about it later on he burst out laughing. So did the others.

‘Ye’d better watch y’sel in future,’ George smirked. ‘Owld Henry ‘Fullacrap’ Fuller can be a right bastard. He’s had quite a few on health charges in the past. Jus’ keep y’heed doon an’ y’ll be a’reet!’

The second disaster happened a few days later. Half way round my patch, just before lunchtime and it seemed to be going as well as ever. I had turned down yet another cul de sac but had forgotten, again, that this one was too tight to swing the van round at the end. I’d have to reverse out, again. Sighing, I switched on the chimes and waited for custom. After ten minutes I’d taken all that was going so I started up and slid the gear stick into reverse.

Now, the old Bedford conversions were great vehicles but they had two very bad blind spots at the back. The bodywork wrapped itself round each corner and must have been about eighteen inches or so wide. I chugged back up the cul de sac, almost to the top, keeping a beady eye out on both corners, turning my head and using the large wing mirrors but then…. bang! What the hell was that? It wasn’t another parked car, of that much I was sure. I climbed out and went round to the back. What I saw then is something I should have seen before but didn’t. I’d completely demolished a cast iron lamppost!

The damned thing was lying on the ground shattered into several bits, its lamp smashed in a circle of tiny pieces and the column lying in four jagged sections. Only a short stump stuck out of the ground where it had stood. There wasn’t a mark on the van but the lamp was no more. What was worse, and frightened the life out of me, were the sparks which were fizzing off the wiring coming up out of the stump and into the remains of the rest and…. the van was still in contact with the stump!

I leapt back into the van to pull it away as someone from the end house came running out, shouting. I ignored the yelling, rammed it into first gear and shot forward, concerned only to get the van away from any raw pulse of unwanted electricity. The shouting continued and I stopped suddenly, jammed on the brakes and swung the door open to inspect the damage from a safe distance. That was a bad move on my part as it slapped the origin of the shouting smack in the face. Now I had a demolished lamppost and a flattened householder. What else could go wrong?

Albert was not very happy when I told him what had happened. Two very frosty days went by while he wrestled with insurance claims from both the local authority and the bloke I’d flattened with the van door. But that’s what insurance is for, isn’t it? I was just happy that Albert had set himself up with the good sense to cover himself, his business and all his drivers, full time or temporary, for any eventuality. All the same, things were tricky for a while after that.

As if that wasn’t enough, a third event then capped everything and kept George and the rest of them in fits when they recalled it, as they did regularly for the rest of the time I was with them. Albert wasn’t too happy about it either.

At that time, in the mid sixties, I’d only been driving for about eighteen months and the bulk of my driving experience had been a mixture of borrowed vehicles until I joined the esteemed ranks of ‘cream’ salesmen. Not that I was a lousy driver. Far from it. If I say it myself, probably because nobody else would at the time, I was coping fairly well. I hadn’t had a speeding fine or any other misdemeanour on my licence. The one thing I hadn’t gained was a full and sensible ‘concentration’ on the art of driving. It’s just that as a fairly normal male I could be distracted by ‘certain things’. The day that a singular and particular distraction happened to me was the first and last but it was, I have to admit now, a spectacular event.

To be continued…/

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