Friday, 26 August 2011

Nanged-Up With Mr. Whippy

I don't know if his cream charger was a bit leaky, or whether I was particularly susceptible to it. All I know is, whenever his jangly bells (Match of the Day theme, perhaps) sounded around the corner, I'd be first in the queue for Mr. Whippy.

Stop me and ingest one.
Perfectly understandable, you might say, for a young boy in the early 70s, when summers were apt to be long and - perish the thought - hot. Back then, a curly dollop of soft-serve with lashings of additive-laced raspberry syrup in a cone would be just the ticket. Except the drug I'm talking about wasn't ice cream. For one, I almost never had any money to buy one, and for another, there was something almost as good to be found by just standing at the counter and breathing in.

Ahh, I can smell it now, evocative and strangely religious. Now I don't know if many people know this (I certainly didn't until recently) but whipped cream chargers need nitrous oxide or N2O, to operate. So here's the thing: penniless or not, that van was a bong-on-wheels for my curious lungs and, like a needy little whippet, there I'd be, sucking in that heady whiff of ozone and crushed almonds. The machine itself, with whirring guts and perpendicular knob from whence the treat would flow, all cream n' chrome Bakelite, nudged by an expert fist, into swirls of ice-cold nourishing animal fat and whey product, if that's what took your fancy.

But beggars like me couldn't be choosers. So although that machine - belonging in the kitchen of a 1950s American housewife with sturdy grip and cherry-pie smile - could pull out endless extrusions of the curly stuff, it would be forever lost to my impoverished tongue. Instead, I'd breathe in, deep and long, letting the cloudy thrum of diesel fumes from the engine add a bit of a kick to the mix. And it smelled good, like a nasty, naughty, pheromonal heaven of chemical propellant. I'd stand there for as long as I could get away with, and there might, during the course of this infusion, come some gentle mewing, such as that of a cheetah cub at its mother's pap, or a blues player solemnly freebasing in a hovel.

Creamy payload.
After a while, I'd notice the impatience of the queue behind me, the ice-cream man looking at me oddly, or - more likely, plucking at his white coat with a half-stoned look in his eye, and it was then that I'd pull away, sucking on my fingers, saying. "I don't want nothing. I've changed my mind."

Because they were mostly pederasts, these cone-jockeys, and probably whacked up the N20 deliberately, hoping to get us high and capitalise on our innocence. So you had to know when to let it go. Don't get me wrong, given the choice, I'd much rather have been sucking a creamy payload, (in the non-kiddy-fiddling sense) through the bottom of a snagged-off cone. But, as far as consolation prizes go, this one wasn't bad.

Today they call it 'nang' and carry it around in bulbs or 'nang-crackers' that empty into balloons for recreation. I'm certain that one whiff of the stuff would take me straight back to the days of that old jalopy, the 'Happy Van', jangling out its screechy version of 'Blaydon Races' or 'Greensleeves' and a forty-year-old porn tash called 'uncle Robbo' dispensing the nang hits (well, at least the first ones) for free.

And I doubt that many of the nanged-up fourteen year olds plastered over Youtube could say that.