“I wish someone had told me” is a series of posts that feed into our inquisitive nature at CN&CO. Each week we hear from someone in our network about something interesting or surprising that’s recently happened or occurred to them – or lessons they learnt. These blogs are a way to pay it forward and form part of CN&CO’s belief that the world can be a better place – and we all have a responsibility to make it so. In this week’s instalment of “I wish someone had told me”, Colin Ford takes a rather random trip down memory lane, triggered by a passing ice cream van…

TAKKIES PLANTED FIRMLY ON THE TAR, straddling his bike, hands on the handlebars, Paul squinted his eyes against the Highveld’s setting summer sun and listened. Intently.

There it was again. The unmistakable plink of the ice cream van song. From two blocks away, that particular note was always discernible. Plink. Its Pavlovian pitch stirred young lust from blocks away for a vanilla-strawberry choc 99 swirl (if you were extremely lucky) or a plain vanilla soft serve (if you were the regular sort of lucky).

Paul did the maths. If the van was in Campbell Street – and it sounded like it was – and stopped outside Michael and Nicola’s house, there would probably be five patrons: Michael, Nicola and their neighbours Bridget, Timothy and Rupert. At 30 seconds a transaction, that meant two and a half minutes, plus another 30 seconds to handle the payment, and 90 seconds to reach the cul de sac where we lived. Four and a half minutes. He needed to act fast.

Competition was fierce at the end of Nash Avenue. Paul and I stayed in number 4. Christine and Bernette were in number 6, while Karin, Bennie and Kasper were in number 2. Number 1 was stocked with Diedre, a.k.a. Doonsie (who, we surmised from her size, had never said no to an ice cream in her life) and her brother Jean, who was a mean bully. Doonsie was actually no slouch in the bully department, either. Next door to Doonsie and Jean were Robert and Thomas. They spoke with Scottish accents to their parents, but with regular accents in the street and at school. Thomas had leukaemia. His hair was thin and patchy and his skin was very pale. He was always wearing sunglasses.

Rounding off the gang was Dieter, who lived at number 5. Dieter’s family had a German Shepherd (obviously) called Axel that barked ferociously at anyone who came near their house. Axel and our black Labrador, Bumpy, came to blows regularly and then my mom and Dieter’s mom would bring hose pipes and buckets of water out into the cul de sac and yell at us kids to stay in the yard.

There was always someone out in the street, or down at the bottom of the road in the veld. But no matter how far you were from your home, you could always hear your mom calling you in for dinner. You could even hear from the tone in her voice if you were in trouble or not.

And, of course, the other thing you could always hear was the high plink of the ice cream van song, now probably just over four minutes away.

Paul surveyed the scene. Karin and Doonsie were right at the top of the cul de sac playing school-school. Robert and Thomas were inside their house. Thomas’s condition meant he had to stay out of the sun. Christine and Bernette were swimming in their pool. Dieter was at a tennis lesson. Bennie was next to Paul, also straddling his BMX, and also rendered still and mute by the plink. Could they have been the only ones who heard it?

Without a word they made their way to their respective homes, trying to muster as much stealth as they could to attract zero attention. Anyone spotting them would grow suspicious and start listening actively. The trick was to get home, beg mom as quietly as possible for a few cents for the Ice Cream Man, and rush back out into the cul de sac, cash in hand, to be first in line when the van arrived.

Oh, they joy of climbing onto the upside-down cooldrink crate, looking into the van, with its Volksie engine KRRRRRRRRRRRRing at the back, watching the Ice Cream Man deftly swirling the soft serve into your cone, trying to choose between a flake or a dip (I always ended up choosing the dip, Paul the flake), marvelling at the way the peak of the ice cream would lean over to one side without falling off – and then quickly biting it off, just in case it did fall. And trying to eat the whole thing before it melted, rendering the cone soggy and cold.

I was in the bath when I heard the plink. Quick as a flash i jumped out, dried myself, put on my pyjamas and ran to Mom with my best begging face on.

“Please, Mom, may I have an ice cream?”

“Have you had your bath?”


“Okay, take 10 cents from my purse.”

Just then, Paul came running in, wearing his best begging face. Mom’s eyebrow shot up.

“Have you had a bath?”

“No,” he replied. “But I will if I can have an ice cream.”

“No bath, no ice cream,” said Mom.

I took my 10 cents and walked past this little tableau rather smugly. Paul, meanwhile, stripped off all his clothes in no seconds flat, aware that he had three minutes to bath and get his 10 cents if he wanted his treat.

I strolled through the front gate, contemplating a flake today instead of a dip… but no, the dip was the bomb. I would go for the dip.

The van plink-plinked up the street. The cul de sac kids started jockeying for position. They had obviously all heard the song. The ice cream man stopped, got out of the van, put the upside-down Coke crate on the tar, went back inside and opened the serving hatch.

One by one we placed our orders. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the pack – not wanting to push in any further forward lest I spark the ire of Doonsie or Jean. Soon the last person was served and the ice cream man disappeared back into the van.

But wait…

“Waaaaaiiiiit!” a little voice pealed out from the direction of number 4.

Half a dozen small heads looked up from their treats to behold my little brother streaking across the lawn, bearing nought but a 10-cent piece. Perfect timing.

The ice cream man served his naked customer without a second glance, packed up his crate and left for the next block.

As for my brother… well, who needs pyjamas anyway when there’s ice cream at stake? Especially when there’s a flake in it.

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