In 1967 I was 10 years old. England had just won the world cup and Coventry City had been promoted to the first division. I was football mad.
I also liked ice creams and Mister D. Di was the van that I chose to buy my ice creams from. The driver of the van noticed one day that I was wearing a Coventry City scarf and told me that he also supported Coventry. We would talk about the team every time I bought an ice cream from him.
One day I told him that on Saturday I was going to see them play Sheffield United. He said he could not go because he was working but could I get him a programme, which I did.
On the way home from the match. I saw the D. Di van in Buckley Road and gave the driver his programme. He thanked me very much for it and asked me if I wanted a lift home. What 10 year old boy has ever had a better offer than that! I got in the van and off we set. We did a couple of stops along the road and I was in heaven. I thought to myself I need to ask him if he needs any help in his van so as we were going down Clare Close with the chimes ringing away I said “Mick, do you need any help selling your ice creams” He said “how do you know my name is Mick” I said that I had seen it in the front of his Coventry City season ticket book which he had shown me.I think he was quite impressed with my detective work so he gave me the job.
The next day, Sunday 27th August 1967, as arranged at 12 noon I waited on the corner of Mason Avenue and Buckley Road for him. I still get excited at the thought of seeing his D.Di Van coming up Mason Avenue to pick me up. He stopped for what seemed like a nano second and I jumped in through the serving counter open window and off we went.
The first stop we did was Charlotte Street, I remember Mick putting the chimes on and I could hear the hum of the road noise of the van through the chimes amplifier. mmmmmm Ding dong Ding dong, Ding dong Ding dong mmmmmm Ding dong Ding dong, Ding dong, Ding dong mmmmmm Ding dong Ding dong.
There I was at the start of my ice cream career, only slight problem. I already had a job. When I was 9 years old, every Saturday morning I would cycle from Lillington to Golf Lane in Whitnash to earn 6/6 (33p) for carrying somebodies golf clubs around the 18 holes. I must have impressed one chap because he asked me if I would caddy for him every week. I said yes I would. He asked me where I lived and when I told him he said he lived in Church Lane and if I walked to his house on a Saturday morning he would give me a lift to and from the golf club.
On the way home I would ask him to drop me off at The Bulldog where I would meet up with Mick in his D.Di van. Although I quite liked my job as a caddy I knew that it would be too much for me on a Saturday to have two jobs.
I can’t remember exactly when I quit the caddying but I do remember on Saturday 30th September being in Mr Taylors maroon Humber Hawk from his house in Church Lane going to the golf course and listening on the radio to Tony Blackburn’s first day on Radio One, so I think it must have been shortly after that.
Being a vanboy in an ice cream van is a great job for a 10 year old and it came with perks. I was allowed to eat all the broken lollies. D.Di used to make bunny rabbit shaped lollies and the ears were always breaking off on them so I had quite a few.
Mick was great to me. He used to make me laugh by impersonating cartoon characters like Yogi Bear or Bugs Bunny. We never had a radio in the van so Mick would sing songs. His favourite singer was Slim Whitman so I know every word of China Doll and Rose Marie. He liked country music and that is probably why I do too. My favourite singer at the time was Johnny Cash.
We used to make up funny derogatory songs about the other ice cream vans. There was one about D. Di’s which we did not sing but was very good. “Oh D. Di Mascio. He sells ice creamio. And when you lickio, You are so sickio”.
We used to play games like 20 questions and the Yes No game from the TV show Take your Pick. Not being able to say yes or no was quite a challenge when speaking to customers. People would ask “do you have a choc ice” (D.Di never had any choc ices) I could not say No because Mick would Gong me so I had to say “unfortunately we don’t have any choc ices but we do have an ice cream with a chocolate flake in it, would you like one of those”.
As a van boy, my job was to take the orders, take the money, serve the ice lollies and give the change. Mick would do the ice creams. Having to add up the cost of everybodies orders in my head all day made me very good at maths and this reflected in my school work where some years I would come top of the class in the Maths exam.
In 1972 when chess was all the rage, we got a small magnetic chess board and would play when we were not serving customers. I became quite good at it.
1973 Mick decided to do a round in Coventry rather than Leamington so at the weekends I would catch the 517 bus to and from Coventry to do my job. Sometimes I would cycle over.
1974 and my 7 year apprenticeship was coming to an end. Lucky for me there was not a D.Di van doing Leamington so in August when I passed my driving test I got a job as a driver for D.Di’s in Coventry and off I came over to Leamington in it.
1975 Mick left D.Di’s and got a job working for an ice cream man in Solihull who had two ice cream vans. He then got me a job driving his other van which I did Leamington in.
1976 I bought a nine year old second hand ice cream van for £1,200. Having my own van meant that I needed somewhere to plug the fridge into overnight. Lucky for me I was friends with the Landlord of the Jack and Jill pub in Lillington. I used to work as a barman there in the winter months. He let me park my van there, which was perfect because there was an enclosed yard at the back of the pub where I could plug the van in.
1979. Crewe in Cheshire is where they make ice cream vans. They were offering a deal whereby if you had an old van with an ice cream machine in it. They would take the machine out and recondition it and then put it in a brand new van. This would save you a lot of money by not having to buy a new ice cream machine. In March I bought on higher purchase my first new ice cream van for £10,000
That year I was asked if I would come to Park Hall School in Leamington at Dinner times in my new ice cream van, and park on their playground and sell ice creams to the pupils.
1981 I bought my second new ice cream van on HP for £12,000. Mick drove that one for me.
1982 I sold my 1979 van and bought another new van on HP for £13,000
That’s it. I have had the two vans for 40 years. Mick retired years ago and now lives in Southport with his wife. We usually meet up once a year and reminisce about the old days. I had various other people drive my second van but nobody for the last 20 years. Now I just take the vans out myself and when one of them needs some repair work doing, I take it off the road and jump in the other one. Not many people realise I have two vans because they are identical.
I am lucky because I have got a lot of loyal customers who buy their ice creams from me year after year. I am seeing three or four generations of the same families coming to my van. A lot of the kids wave to me when they see me going by so I do a lot of waving back, I have developed a bit of a royal wave. Many of the kids are excited to see me when they come out and tell me all sorts of nice things. When a 10 year old tells me they want to be an ice cream man so they can eat all the ice creams, I know exactly how they feel because I got that dream job when I was 10.
Here is an interesting story about the ice cream trade and involves me being…
… prosecuted for not having a street traders license
you can read the long interesting story or skip to the last 3 paragraphs for a summary
I have been registered with Warwick District Council Health Department as an ice cream man since I bought my first van when I was 19 in 1976. This would mean that the health department would come along and inspect my van on a regular basis to make sure that the van was fit for purpose and I new what I was doing. From time to time they would send me on food hygiene courses and keep me upto date with any new regulations that I needed to know about. In 1987 WDC introduced a new license called a Street Trading Consent. This was administered by their Licensing department and cost about £40.
There are two types of ice cream men. Those who trade around the local streets (like me) and those who park up somewhere all day in the town or outside parks or tourist attractions ect. Selling around the streets involves trying to build a round up. Going around the same streets at the same time of day so people would get used to you coming. Selling from a pitch outside a park is a lot easier, the customers are quite often tourists which means you will probably not see them again which means you can charge them more for your ice creams.
In Leamington in the 70’s and 80’s there were a number of ice cream vans who because they could not make any money selling around the streets would pitch up somewhere in the town. The most sought after pitch was the entrance to The Jephson Gardens in Newbold Terrace.
There are very few gentlemen in the ice cream trade and any disputes are usually sorted out by fists or some sort of threat. I was not involved in these disputes because I was not trading outside the Jephson Gardens but I did hear reports of van windows being smashed and threats of personal violence. One night in the summer of 1989 somebody set fire to two ice cream vans which were parked up outside their owners house. From what I recall one van was written off and the other was badly smoke damaged. Luckily the fire did not spread to the house, otherwise it could have been a lot more serious. Nobody has ever been arrested for this horrendous crime.
After this event the police asked all the Street Trading Consent holders to attend a meeting at Leamington Police station. We were told that if we wanted to carry on trading outside the Jephsons we would have to do it in turns. From this instruction one of the ice cream men drew up a rota whereby each person would know when it was their turn to park outside The Jephsons. I was asked if I wanted to be on this list, I explained that I would not put my name on the list with the proviso that if any of the vans did my run while it’s not their turn at The Jephsons I would park infront of any van outside the Jephsons. My thinking at the time was, if I put my name to this rota I would have to co-operate with these people, one of whom would probably set my van on fire if he did not like me.
That’s how its been in Leamington, me around the streets and them outside the parks. My customers are always moaning to me about the vans outside the parks because they charge twice as much as me for an ice cream, so, indirectly they make me look good.
Quite often I would get a different ice cream van (an outsider) doing my run, usually they don’t last very long but they are annoying. I know that they do not have a street traders license and its a waste of time me trying to report them because the Council will not do anything about them.
One year they put up the license fee from about £60 to over £600 and I thought why should I pay and other vans not pay, so, I reported one of them. In 2011 I told Warwick District Council Licensing Department of an ice cream van that had been trading in Leamington for the previous 5 years and did not have a license to do so. In 2012 I checked the councils website and saw that he still did not have a license. I asked the council why this van still did not have a license, they told me “because he moved around it was difficult to get hold of him.” I suggested to them that as I have given them his van registration number they could find out where he lives. They replied that they were not allowed to use the police computer for non urgent matters.
In 2013, despite my numerous e.mails to the Council the van remained unlicensed. He was not paying the £675 license fee so I decided not to pay mine either.
In August 2013 I got a telephone call from the Council. They asked me if I was still trading. I told them I was. They informed me that I was breaking the law because I did not have a valid license. I was just about to protest my case when they told me that the van I had been complaining about had now got a license. The next day I paid my £675 license fee.
In October 2013, when the license fee was due again, they ran from October to October, I checked the Councils list again. I did not see the van I had been complaining about on the list. As the steam was coming out of my ears I noticed that there was another ice cream van on the list for the first time. This van goes around Warwick and I found out later from the owner that The Police had asked him for his documents and because he did not have a Street Traders License he was told to get one. Not a bad outcome for him considering he has been an ice cream man since 1980.
Anyway, that means that the council did not lie to me as I initially thought when they phoned me. It just means they are useless, which I knew all along. At this point I stopped paying for a license.
August 2015, I receive a letter from Warwick District Council telling me that if I want to sell ice creams in Leamington I must purchase a Street Trading Consent or I could be fined upto a maximum of £1000. I wrote back and told them, I quote, “According to your list of Consent Holders I am the only person who sells ice cream around the streets of Leamington who has held a license in the last ten years. Could you tell me why you have allowed many unlicensed ice cream vans to come into Leamington and trade around the streets for the last ten years and yet you expect me to be the only one again to purchase a license from you” I did not buy a license.
July 2018, I was asked by The Irish Club in Leamington to come along and serve ice creams to all the members of their Tuesday Club for which the Club would pay me for. This is an annual event and I have been doing this for a number of years.
The Irish Club is literally next door to the Headquarters of Warwick District Council. While I was serving I noticed an official looking person from the council standing by the van. Somebody from the Irish Club asked if they could help her. She explained that she just wanted to check my Street Traders License. When I finished serving the queue the council official approached the counter and told me she was The Leader of Licensing at WDC and could she inspect my Street Traders License. I gave her the last License I had, which was dated 2013. She asked why I did not have a current one and I told her the story about all the ice cream vans that operate in Leamington without a license and this was my protest. She did sympathise with me and explained that she has only recently taken over in the License department and things were going to be different now. However, I had committed an offence and would be dealt with accordingly.
August 2018, I receive a letter from WDC informing me that I had committed an offence and to attend an interview at their headquarters on 6th September. In bold text it also said “You should consider taking legal advice on this matter” I went to see a solicitor in Warwick, I told him my story which was backed up by a folder full of of all my e.mails to and from WDC. He told me that morally I had a case, but in the eyes of the law I was guilty. He suggested that I apply for a new license straight away as this should help my case. He also explained to me what might happen to me at the interview. This ranged from a verbal warning to a criminal case being put towards me at a court of law. I took his advice and got a license.
In the letter from my solicitor to me, along with all the legal details I needed to know about, he did summarise by saying “I have been through your green folder containing a good deal of correspondence going back a number of years in relation to these matters and can fully understand your concerns that fellow ice cream van traders are shirking their responsibilities in paying license fees. Moreover, it must be very galling for you when you feel that the Local Authority have made no proper efforts to enforce their own regulations in this regard. Therefore, looking at your chain of correspondence with the District Council over the years I would say that your feelings are to a great extent, understandable.”
6th September 2018. I attend WDC headquarters with my solicitor. We go into an interview room where the proceedings are recorded. I was asked how I was going to plead and I said guilty. After that it got quite friendly and I was told that they would take action against anybody who I reported to them that has not got a Street Traders License. I left there with just a verbal warning. No fine but my solicitors fee was £400 which is the same as having a fine.
It gets interesting from here.
August 2019. After a period of not seeing any vans on my run, the one I was complaining about had disappeared and a couple of others had gone too, I saw a new one. What’s going on I thought! You don’t see new vans in August its too near the end of the season, March/ April is when you usually spot them. He kept coming, but I noticed it was just at the weekends. One Saturday I saw him, so knowing that he would not have a Street Trading License I decided to have a word. It never goes well when you talk to other ice cream men they usually tell you to p**s off. I told him that I knew he did not have a license and if he kept doing my round I would report him to the authorities. He told me that he came from Coventry and you do not need a license there. I said that maybe so but if you are trading in Leamington you need to get one.
September 2019. Its time for me to renew my license. I notice that they have changed the wording on it. There used to be just one license now there are two. You have to apply for a Street Traders License or a Static License which covers you if you are pitched up somewhere. I don’t know when they changed the terms as I had not had one for 5 years apart from the previous year when I just asked for a Street Traders License form to fill in.
Remember me saying earlier that I would not park outside The Jephsons but I would do if any ice cream van did my run. Well this system has worked all these years but now I can’t park there. I need to get a Static license as well as a Street license.
I applied to the Council for a Static License. On the form I said I wanted to park in Newbold Terrace outside the entrance to The Jephson Gardens, exactly where all the other vans park. I got a letter back saying that no ice cream vans are allowed to park there. I asked whereabouts in Leamington can an ice cream van park up to sell ice creams and they replied. Nowhere.
I pointed out to the Council that ice cream vans are parking outside The Jephsons and by The Pump Room Gardens on a daily basis. They replied and told me that no ice cream vans are parking there.
I have never parked outside The Jephsons and I don’t particularly want to, but, I don’t want to be told that I can’t park there . This would mean that the other vans would now be free to do my run with no repercussions.
May 2020. I report the ice cream van that was coming from Coventry at the weekends and doing my round to the council. They thanked me for reporting the van and said that they would write to the DVLA to get his details but because it is being done via the postal system it might take many weeks before they get a reply.
June 2020. I e.mail WDC. I say “ In September last year. You told me I could not sell ice creams in Newbold Terrace. Could you tell me why you are allowing other ice cream vans to trade there on a daily basis” WDC replied, “We have contacted the owner/operators of the vehicles that are trading outside of Jephson Gardens. We have had a number of conversations with the individuals involved and have been assured that the practice will stop. Officers are now gathering evidence and operators have been informed that we will move to the next stage of revocation or prosecution if we find consistent noncompliance with conditions.”
I wrote back “Regarding the vans parking outside the Jephsons. It would appear to me that whatever the owner/operators say to you, they intend to continue to park there for ever. They were parked there today and have been parking there most days for the last two months. How much consistent noncompliance with conditions do you need.”
April 2021. Ice cream vans are still selling ice creams outside the parks in Leamington Spa with the full knowledge of Warwick District Council and without a license, on a daily basis. WDC told me that I am not allowed to park outside the parks. I ask WDC Licensing for a list of registered ice cream van traders. There are 2 lists, static traders and mobile traders. Nobody has a static license. On the mobile list are 6 vans, 2 of them are mine. The other 4 vans do not operate as mobile, they are parked static all day outside the parks. Not on any list are another 4 vans that come into Leamington from time to time and sell ice creams around the streets.
To sum up: There are 10 ice cream vans that operate in Leamington from time to time. I am the only one that has an official license to do so and I am the only one that has ever been prosecuted for not having one. It’s a good job I can take a joke.
Its always been dog eat dog in the ice cream business. I thought that when they introduced a license system it might help but it certainly hasn’t. Never mind, I shall carry on. Luckily I have got a lot of good customers who buy their ice creams from me year after year. This year I am celebrating the fact that I have been selling ice creams around the streets of Leamington in the same van (vans) for 40 years. People do not realise I have 2 vans because they are identical. I bought the vans, brand new, in March 1981 and March 1982.