Mr Whippy on a beach in Northumberland means my summer has started - Gaby Soutar

I may have peaked too soon. The beginning of summer has already been marked. It happened when we both had a Mr Whippy – Mr Whippies, I suppose – on Beadnell Beach in Northumberland.

Although it was still chilly, there were swallows above and sand underfoot.

We felt justified in ordering two 99s, and eating them while still tightly vacuum-packed into our puffer coats.

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Even though it was only about 18 degrees outside, they melted faster than slushies in Hades and dripped on to my gutties.

An ice cream van with blue sky above. Picture:StockCube/AdobeAn ice cream van with blue sky above. Picture:StockCube/Adobe
An ice cream van with blue sky above. Picture:StockCube/Adobe

The soggy edges of the cone were nibbled right down, in a methodical clockwise rotation, until there was just a tiny beak of wafer left, and the ritual was complete.

Let’s get this season started.

It’s time to scrape the rust off the barbecue and look out my Dr Scholls. I’ve never been so ready, after months of eating soup and trying not to turn on the heating.

It may seem a bit early, but we have to push the edges of time out like a roll of parchment. Scottish summer is too fleeting, though it’s always punctuated by an al-fresco version of this sugary treat. It will close with another in late September, when the nights are fair drawing in.

On a recent weekend break across the Border, I had been prematurely tempted by the presence of so many ice-cream vans.

Along with the tatty Coronation bunting that just refuses to quit, they’re obviously still a thing in England’s seaside towns.

We saw them on the move, stationed in car-parks, or expectantly parked by a beach, like Venus fly traps waiting for thirsty bugs.

It’s as if a Martin Parr photograph is waiting to be taken.

The purveyor that we stalked had a livery of pink, white and yellow, with purple stars, and 3D cones at its temples. It was called Joe’s Super Whip, with a tagline of “for those who prefer the best”, and that's funny, because I really do. I’ve always thought that it beats the alternatives.

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Sadly, I haven’t seen one of these vehicles in Edinburgh for ages.

There are plenty of street food vans, but the ice-cream ones seem a bit passé.

Despite this, the other day, I thought that I could hear the distant jangle of Green Sleeves coming round the block, and I hurried to the door. The music turned out to be the reverberations from Beyoncé’s Renaissance concert at Murrayfield.

Now, whenever I hear Crazy in Love, I’ll crave a soft serve. If you like it, then you should’ve put a wafer in it.

The tinkling van music is so Pavlovian. It promises good things, though not for my colleague’s friend, whose genius parents used to tell her that when ice-cream vans played a tune, it meant that they were sold out.

Anyway, these vehicles were once a familiar sight, even in the landlocked bits of the city.

The small Speyside town where my husband grew up used to have a very regular visit in the summer.

According to him, all the kids in the neighbourhood would start pestering their mums for coins as soon as they heard the music approaching, then they’d shout “creamer!”. That quickly spread the word, in the manner of small birds spotting a kestrel. Against The Tufty Club’s safe road-crossing advice, they’d all dash across the busy High Street with zero parental supervision, as was the style those days.

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This van wasn’t quite as entrepreneurial as the Glasgow ice-cream wars lot, who were dealing drugs and stolen goods out of the hatch, but they had branched out into selling single cigarettes and a match, for 10p. They should’ve stuck them in the top, instead of a Flake.

Back then, he would always order vanilla or plain. No fags.

He still does. I find that a bit frustrating, when the world should be his oyster (the wafer ones, not the seafood).

We’ll occasionally make a pilgrimage to one of Scotland’s best parlours – Mary’s Milk Bar, Joelato, Luca’s, Fochabers Ice-Cream Parlour, or Giacopazzi’s, say – and be faced with twenty tins of gelato or ice-cream, plus sprinkles, spangles, dragon’s blood and hot fudge sauce.

I’ll order everything, with all the trimmings and lashings.

I don’t want to go back to the days when chocolate was my favourite flavour but a block of Neapolitan, Viennetta or Arctic Roll was about as exotic as it got.

I don’t even ask him what he’ll choose. I know. It’s not that he’s paralyzed by the choice available. He just likes the most boring flavour.

“Everything else is disappointing,” he says, in his defence.

My dad was always the same. He’d get a double nougat, with two magnolia-coloured scoops in the middle.

However, as the ice-cream constabulary, I have to say that your choice says an awful lot about you. Those who order mint choc chip flavour are subconsciously suffering from halitosis. If it’s rum and raisin, tutti frutti or raspberry ripple, all of which had their heyday in the Eighties or earlier, you’re probably over 40, nay 50. The same goes if you ask for a cigarette on the side. If the ice-cream is blue, you are 12.

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The youth enjoy the Biscoff and Oreo varieties, though my nieces and nephew would probably rather have bubble tea or slushies.

Those who are eating Mr Whippy on a beach in May? They’re getting prematurely excited about summer.



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