Ian McMillan: Fond memories of Sunday afternoon ice cream

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It would be a Sunday at any time in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

My dad would just have finished washing up the vast pile of Sunday pots and pans, which would mean that he’d just have finished singing Andy Stewart and Kenneth McKellar songs. He’d take his flowery pinny off and hang it up in the pantry; he’d turn the radio off.

“Shall we go for a run?” he’d say. And we’d nod. For other families this might mean getting tracksuits on and pounding pavements and working up a sweat. For us it meant piling into the blue Ford Zephyr with the registration number UHE 8 and trundling round the South Yorkshire lanes at a speed that would never trouble the sound barrier. Or indeed any other kind of barrier.

My mother would go upstairs to “get ready” which meant that she’d put some make-up on and maybe change her clothes. My brother would go to the paper rack to ‘get ready’ which meant that he’d get yesterday’s Yorkshire Post out to sit on because Mr Page next door had told him it prevented travel sickness. I wouldn’t do anything because I was ready. I was like a commando: always ready.

My dad would reverse the car down the drive and turn into the street. One of the loveliest things about my dad was that he always said the same things in the same situations; if he wanted to get things done he would say “action this day!”, if he felt a headache coming on he would say, in his Scots accent, “I’m getting a fat heid” and when we turned into the street he would say, as a legacy of his decades at sea, “hard a-starboard, captain!” and he’d make the smooth transition from first gear into second. To be honest, those were his main two gears. Well, ships didn’t go all that fast; especially in a South China Sea swell in winter.

We’d drive down through Darfield, often calling at the garage for some petrol; a man in overalls would come out and my dad would say, as he always said, “fill ‘er up!” and I’d crane my neck to watch the numbers on the pump clicking over.

Then we’d drive to Great Houghton, my mother’s birthplace; by this time my dad would be singing Puppet on a String by Sandie Shaw and my brother would be shifting uncomfortably on his seat, gazing out of the window to keep a horizon in view. We’d make our way to Brierley crossroads for the real and hitherto unstated purpose of the trip: ice cream from Danny’s van.

My dad always feigned surprise at the sight of the van: “Well, will you look at that?” he’d say, “Danny’s here!” and we’d pull up. Me and my brother and my dad would have a cornet and my mam would have a wafer, what my dad’s Borders relatives called a slider.

There would be a few minutes of contemplative silence and ice-cream licking as we sat in the car with the windows down. A pit bus would pass, full of men on their way to or from a shift down below. Time would stand still. Time would let us enjoy the moment. Then my dad would 
say “Hard a-port!” and we’d be off home.