Tales From the Past | ‘The Cream’ – Part 4

Going round the old patch again I was driving on to my next stop when it happened. It was a quiet afternoon, the weather was bright and warm and things had been going well all day. I was moving fairly slowly along on my circuit and then ahead of me a vision of pure delight stepped out from one of the houses. She was about my age and very, very ‘tasty’. As I drove along behind her I was transfixed by the simple purity of the physiological movement in front of me. It was near perfect. I slowed to walking speed followed along behind her, revelling in the sight and the undulating form in front of me until the point where my route required a right hand turn. Still gazing at this beauty I turned the wheel automatically. That was the worst thing I could have done.

As I turned, still gazing at that receding form, the hips moving deliciously from side to side but sadly away from me, an horrific, grinding, tearing, ripping noise dragged me back to reality. Ramming my foot to the brake I looked down and out of my window. The sight I saw filled me with total despair. I had ripped off the complete side of a car! The bumpers on the old Bedford had acted like a giant tin opener and it wasn’t just any old car I’d ruined. It was the pride and joy of the householder who had parked his treasure outside his house.

For whatever reason he hadn’t got round to putting it away in his garage. If he had it would never have happened, but that wasn’t his fault, it was mine. The car was an early fifties model of a large Vauxhall limousine, all fins and ‘sticky out bits’, but now it had a long, irregular, gouge running the complete length of one side. Beneath the pampered and polished metal skin it must have been corroding for away for years. Now there was a red, rusting scar all the way along it. I had torn the whole thing apart in less than three seconds!

There were only two alternatives in this situation. I could either ram the van into gear and get the hell out of it there and then, and as fast as possible, or… own up. There was really only one thing I could do. I pulled the van over to the kerb, switched off the engine, got out and walked up to his front door. I couldn’t walk away from this. Besides, and I have to admit it, I had the sneaking suspicion I might have been seen by a neighbour. I rang the bell and he came to the door, smiling! The smile didn’t last long.

Albert could hardly speak when I told him what had happened. I was impressed by the wonderful, near purple colour of his face! I kept my head well and truly down for a few days after that. Thank goodness for insurance companies!

Over the next couple of weeks I ‘honed my art’, remembering everything George had told me. I could now present a delicious looking cornet to the punters which was hollow. Not as well as George or Hole, of course, but not bad even if I say it myself. But this gave a great temptation by itself. I was saving almost a third of the cream which should have gone into the cornets and, human greed overtaking me, I ‘adjusted’ the takings accordingly.

One third of the cash sales went into my pocket and the remaining two thirds went to Albert. There was a hell of a lot of this going on at the time, and maybe there is still is, but I hadn’t perfected my criminality well enough. It was Karl who began the inquisition. I arrived back one early evening to find him in charge instead of Albert. He looked at the takings I handed over and made a point of slowly checking the remains of the cream in the tub.

‘Been workin’ hard, eh?’ he said in a very snide fashion.

‘As hard as ever,’ I replied, keeping a blank expression on my face.

‘You’d better watch y’self,’ he said. ‘I’ve got me eye on you.’

Apart from Karl I hadn’t reckoned with the beady eye and calculating brain of Albert Antonio. He was no fool and had known, without saying a word, what had been going on for days. Karl merely started the process off for him. In my fourth week, and without me knowing, he’d been carefully inspecting the tub whenever I returned and meticulously assessing the takings. They were slightly down on the previous weeks but the level of the remaining cream in the tub was about the same as before.

On the last day of that fourth week he acted. With one quick look into the tub and a rapid check of the change I handed over, he looked up and fixed me with his gimlet eyes.

‘Not so good this week!’ he snapped. ‘Can’t give the regular. Have to cut it until business picks up.’

With that said he handed over a few notes and turned on his heel without waiting for a reply. I checked my weeks ‘wages’. They were down by a third. There was nothing I could do and the last thing I wanted was a stand up argument, not that he was available for that. He was already back inside the creamery with the door slammed shut behind him. This was the disadvantage of the ‘cash in hand’ deal which had been offered in the first place.

Karl and Maria were sitting in the window of the parlour, having witnessed the whole thing and were now grinning innanely at me. I drove off home, furious at having made a complete pratt of myself, again! Honesty is, after all, the best policy. I’d have to be more sensible in future.

The following morning saw more unrest in the camp with more stories of the ‘brickies’ moving in on patches all over the place. There’d been a couple of stand up fights in the street with the brickies and the Fantini vans locked in actual ‘fisticuffs’ and throwing ice cream at each other in front of bemused customers!

Albert was just as irritated at the delay caused by all this chattering and duly shouted loudly at everyone again. Mario sauntered out, looking as disheveled as ever and twice as pissed as usual.

‘Have y’got to make such a bloody row!’ he complained. ‘Aave had a late night an’ an early mornin’. You lot arn’t helpin’ me peace o’mind one little bit.’

‘Aah wonda which piece of he’s mind he’ taakin’ aboot,’ George muttered as we walked off to the vans.

Driving along to my patch I kept my eyes open for any of the brickies. I didn’t see one of them. As the morning rolled on I began to slowly relax but I still kept a wary eye out. If they were going to appear it would be a sudden arrival. But nothing happened to me during that whole morning. I kept my eyes well and truly open for any sign of Billy Harris or any other brickie van which might appear but there wasn’t a sign of one of them at all. The afternoon was different.

There were a number of cul de sacs on the estate and these were good stops to make. I pulled into one I’d been working on for a few weeks by this time and at the end of it I turned the van round and stopped ready to come out. I’d just flicked the chimes on when Billy Harris pulled in to the top and sat there, engine running, blocking the exit.

Two others rolled up behind him and then the three of them slowly moved forward towards me. This was not a healthy situation. I knocked the chimes off in mid melody and waited, making sure I’d locked the doors and closed the serving hatch. I sat there wondering what Billy had in mind. I soon found out.

People from the houses had begun to emerge but then seeing four ice cream vans in the street they were all a bit confused. I wasn’t. I was watching Billy driving slowly down the street followed by the other two vans. He stopped a few feet away from me, switched his engine off and opened his door to get out. As he closed the door he held one hand behind his back and just stood there, a wide grin spreading across his face. Then he began to walk over to my van, the hand behind his back came forward and he held up a car jack in front of him. The other two drivers had climbed down from their vans and each of them were carrying a pile of building bricks. It only took a few seconds to work out what they were intending to do and I was helpless to stop them. I might have easily taken Billy on but not the two gorilla’s he had with him.

If I couldn’t think of something quickly they’d have the van jacked up, the wheels would be off and I’d be left sitting on the bricks. Billy walked right up to the front of my van and leered through the windscreen at me. People stepped back into their front doors apprehensively, watching in silence. The two thugs Billy had brought with him stood behind him, grinning inanely. Billy brought up the car jack and stroked it, stretching out the agony for me and then began to move down to one of the front wheels.

At that moment the air was torn by the noise of six ice cream van chimes, belting out their melodies full blast! I looked up and couldn’t believe my luck. The cavalry had arrived! Limbo. Drib, Squidge, Hole, Ding-Dong and good old George were lined up across the entrance to the cul de sac blocking it completely!

This must have been a first for anyone in living in that street if not for the whole of the North East. It must have been quite a sight to the householders. The six of Antonio’s were lined up and pointing down the street, Billy and his mates in an arrow arrangement facing me and my van pointing back up to the rest. What the folks in the street were thinking I’ll never know but Billy and his ‘helpers’ didn’t look quite so cocky as they’d done a few moments ago.

They suddenly dropped the bricks and the car jack, scampered back to their vans and did what I had done, locked the doors and made sure of their serving area as well. A minute or so later and they were being ‘escorted’ away by George and the rest, each of the brickies vans hemmed in front and back by the lads in theirs. They moved off slowly, giving the effect of a bizarre funeral procession.

‘Is it some sort of carnival, hinny?’ asked one of the young mums as I served the bewildered folk from the street.

‘Sort of,’ I said. ‘A special occasion. A celebration of Ice Cream makers.’

‘Eeh, that’s great,’ giggled another mum. ‘And t’think it happened right here!’

With all the folks served, I trundled off to find the others. There they were in the middle of scrubby patch of wasteland about half a mile away. All three of the brickies vans were sitting nose to tail in a triangle and the lads were driving slowly round them, laughing hysterically. All three brickie vans were without wheels and jacked up on bricks. Billy and the other two were trapped in the middle, cornered by their own vehicles and covered with ice cream! We didn’t have any more trouble with the brickies for quite a while after that!

My last week arrived and the prospect of another term at college drew near. I’d enjoyed the last few weeks with all these characters and wondered if there might be a chance to join their ranks the following year or at any other holiday period for that matter. As a total coward I left it right to the last day before I said anything at all and then it was George I took advice from first.

‘So what do you think, George?’ I asked. ‘Should I ask him?’

‘Why not, kidda,’ George answered. ‘Yiv got nowt to lose. Ye naa the business as well as any. Gan on man, go for it!’

The reaction I had from Albert when I did ask him wasn’t the one I’d expected.

‘Are you taking the piss out of me?’ Albert rasped. ‘Since yiv been with the business there’s been nothin’ but trouble! There hasn’t been a single week when y’haven’t cocked things up, fiddled the takin’s or been a pain in the arse. In fact a smart arse, college boy and a bloody know it all!’

‘Now just hang on….’ I tried to reply but he kept going, totally ignoring anything I was saying.

‘Not only that but yiv caused problems on other drivers patches, almost fightin’ in the streets, smashed friggin lamposts, wrecked friggin cars and cost me a friggin fortune in friggin insurance claims!’

‘Are you trying to tell me something then!’ I almost shouted at him.

‘Yes!’ he shouted back, red in the face. ‘When can you friggin come back to friggin work?’

‘Looks like yiv made the grade!’ George chuckled. ‘Albert’s choosy about who he employs. See y’in the hols, kidda!’

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