WHAT would you do on a rain-battered winter's night when through the howling gale outside you hear the jingle-jangle of an approaching ice-cream van? Would you search for spare change, pull on your gloves and wellies, and run out for a Mister Softee, an ice-pole or a Zoom?
Or would you freeze with a mixture of fear and adrenalin, step back from the window, turn off the lounge light so you can't be seen as you take out the binoculars and take turns searching for signs? Because this is what the girlfriend and I do every week.
Jingle jangle jingle jangle.
"It's going to the usual spot."
"You serious, it's pouring down. No, wait, someone's coming…"
"It's my turn, let me see."
Perhaps there are people who crave a 99 in a force 10 gale. Who am I to judge? But I do find it unusual that our local ice-cream van always puts on its tune at exactly the same spot, then parks outside exactly the same tenement, as if waiting for exactly the same customer, who none the less rarely appears. If you were an ice-cream vendor would you travel miles on the off-chance that your one reliable Magnum chocoholic had the craving? Perhaps in a recession you might. Or perhaps something more sinister is circling our city with it's apparently benign childlike chimes.
"What's he buying?"
"Looks like something in a little bag."
"Was it from above the counter?"
"No, below, and he's asking for something else. He's handing over the money now."
"Give me the bloody binoculars!"
"Wait, GOD! A knife… no… sorry, could be a kiddie-cone."
Perhaps it's because I'm starved of daily stimulus or because I loved the film Comfort And Joy, but in the past few weeks I've built up a blockbuster-scale conspiracy that Glasgow is returning to the heyday of the ice-cream wars.
For anyone too young to remember this, during the Eighties two rival Glaswegian ice-cream families were involved in a violent turf war. Although elements of the story were farcical, with Strathclyde Police renamed "the serious chimes squad", the outcomes were none the less horrific, culminating in six deaths through fire-raising. And all because what was sold from those jolly jingly vans was a lot more addictive than Cornettos.
"Wait, something's on his fingers… looks like blood!"
"You're hogging the binoculars again!"
"No, it's… he's licking it!"
"Damn! He's looking back at us!"
So we found ourselves hitting the deck, counting the seconds, worrying over when it was safe to peek again and quizzing each other on what we would do if we ever did see something really incriminating. Call the police? Be dragged into a court case, be fire-bombed, have to be put on the witness protection scheme, all because we might have, from a distance of a hundred yards, mistaken a sherbet dip for a bag of crack, or raspberry sauce for blood?
Since that moment we've devised a new plan. When we hear the van we draw the curtains and sit together holding hands, telling ourselves that our fears are childish and silly, as we wait silently for the chimes to pass.