Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 529: misread the Ice Cream Signs
‘There you go, mate,’ says the man behind the park café counter, who is wearing a white catering jacket and a matching white cap – both of which display stains that would worry me if I were buying more than a cup of tea and a Kit Kat. ‘A 99.’ The small, smartly dressed foreign visitor ahead of me in the queue hands the man behind the counter a pound coin and gingerly takes the funnel of orange wafer. He holds it aloft as if he were one of last year’s Olympic Torch carriers, and looks with understandable awe at the improbable white quiff of whipped chemicals that has been pumped into the cone and the small tree trunk fashioned out of chocolate that has been stuck in the side of this quiff: a small chocolate tree trunk that still bears the marks of the hot fingers that stuck it there.
Although I’m keen to get my cup of tea and Kit Kat and head back into the sunshine, there is something about this foreign visitor that demands attention. Standing there open-mouthed with his ice cream, he is lost in wonder; it’s as if he crossed these as and mountains that divide his homeland from just for this long-wished-for moment. Now that it has come, he is finding it a little overwhelming.
Meanwhile, the man behind the counter is turning the pound coin over in his hand. This gives those of us behind the foreigner with the ice cream a good opportunity fully to take in the man behind the counter’s finger nails – the state of which suggests he has recently dug a tunnel through a mound of dung, effluent and coal without a spade. Behind him, the door to the kitchen swings open and another man comes out. This second man is wearing a full and grandiose catering operative’s outfit: clogs, blue-and-white check trousers,double-buttoned jacket and a ten-inch-high chef’s hat. He is carrying a tray of cheese sandwiches.It is the equivalent of someone dressing up in a mortarboard and black gown in order to say to a two-year-old, ‘Now we are going to learn about the letter O. It is round, like a circle, and makes this sound, “Oh”. Can you say “Oh”?’
Ignoring the sandwiches, theman behind the counter holds thecoin in his palm, which is smearedwith substances that are notimmediately recognisable butwhose presence seems likely tocontravene several areas of food safety legislation. He looks at thecoin then smiles at the foreigner. The foreigner watches this and,thinking he is involved in a display of the world-famous British looks at the coin then smiles back at the man behind the counter. The man behind the counter stops smiling and frowns. Theforeigner, determined to followwhat he takes to be correct procedure, stops smiling as well.
‘And the rest, mate,’ says the man behind the counter, with hisfirst hint of menace.‘The rest? Oh, it is nothing.Please keep it,’ replies the foreigner.The man behind the counterstarts to colour. ‘The rest for me.’
‘For you?’ the foreigner asks with some incredulity.
‘Yeah. The rest!’
‘A pound is enough!’
‘It’s not enough. It costs one pound 20.
You owe me another 20 pence.’
The foreigner pulls himself up to his full height and points at the chart on the wall that shows the available ice creams and lollies.‘But it says clearly!’
We follow his gaze.
‘No, mate,’ says the man behind the counter.
‘That’s not the price. That’s its name: 99.’
Read more about Michael Hodges’ adventures.