Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Calvert 22, London E2, Field of Action Till 28 Aug

A groundbreaking show of work from an under-documented time and place, the Soviet conceptual art of the 1970s. Working beneath the radar, exhibiting in flats and converted spaces, and performing actions in secluded rural settings, they created works against the official aesthetics of socialism, in the name of the free and equal social life socialism promised. This show presents documents, photographs and distinctly DIY objects from a rough, fierce and independent period.

Music

Cadogan Hall, London SW1, BBC Proms: Maxwell Davies, Aperghis and Birtwistle 20 Aug

The London Sinfonietta and BBC Singers perform a matinee program of work from Master of the Queen's Music, Peter Maxwell Davies, and two UK premieres of pieces from Georges Aperghis and Harrison Birtwistle.

Performance

The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1, John Hegley presents 'Beyond Our Kennel' 22 Aug

The well-loved comedic poet - self-described "busker made good" - performs a night of music, stories, poetry and jokes. He is supported by guests Bob Harper and Kath Drake.

Theatre

Trafalgar Studios, London SW1, Top Girls Till 29 Oct

The Chichester Festival revival of Caryl Churchill's Thatcher-era exploration of women, power and history comes to London. Max Stafford-Clark, who directed the first, sensational production in 1982, returns again at the helm.

Talk

Housmans Bookshop, London N1, London's Burning: McKenzie Wark 24 Aug

The Australian poet, scholar and theorist of cyber-space and new media gives a talk on his new book on the history and work of 50s and 60s revolutionary art group the Situationist International, notorious for their participation in the events of May 1968 in Paris. The talk will be followed by a Q&A.

Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment
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Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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