Meet Mr Whippy

ICECREAM MAN: Carl Russell is East Auckland’s Mr Whippy.
ICECREAM MAN: Carl Russell is East Auckland’s Mr Whippy.

The tinny squawk of Greensleeves drifts through the air. You're possibly already thinking about icecream cones, and a flake buried in white gloop at a jaunty angle.

You're hearing the chug of a generator and an argument between a toddler and mother. You may be feeling suddenly, unaccountably, peckish.

For Carl Russell, Greensleeves means all these things, but something else besides.

"It means money. It's the tune of my life. It's the tune of my financial freedom. I love it. "

Russell, 34, is East Auckland's Mr Whippy. He sells soft-serve icecream all year but sales peak in summer, and especially over the Christmas break.

On Friday, Russell opened up the back of his van, where silver plastic bladders of premixed UHT milk and cream are stored in a fridge before being flash-frozen and mixed with air, extruded onto a cone and handed through a hatch.

Russell's is one of 60-odd Mr Whippy trucks across New Zealand. The brand came from the UK in 1964 and there are competitors with names like "Super Kool", but even they get called Mr Whippy.

With a reporter riding shotgun, and a photographer out back amid trays of sherbert powder and jars of bubblegum and jelly worms, Russell roamed the flat, empty, streets of Pakuranga and Half Moon Bay, selectively targeting the "money streets".

There's a spot round here where the kids love him so much they drew him a poster for Christmas, complete with a picture of his van.

Beaches are great on hot days. He makes good sales to workplaces and old folks' homes. But regular, reliable sweeps of residential streets are Russell's bread and butter.

Cul-de-sacs are best. The trick is to start the music as you enter, park up in the dead-end for 90 seconds, then slowly head back out.

"It's an incredible form of selling," said Russell in a tone of wonderment, as he reached down to flick the silver switch by his knee. "Going to someone's house and enticing them out with this magical little tune."

Actually, the first cul-de-sac was a flop, but in the second two girls and a boy trotted out.

Matthew, 9, wanted a sherbet-topped cone.

How had he felt when he heard the music?

"Hungry!" His sister Jessica, 11, had a sherbert too.

Ariana Nathan-Welch, 12, ordered a Whippy hedgehog.

It took Russell seconds. Cone in right hand, lever of the Gelmatic Excel 100 in left. A swirl of the cone as the icecream surged out, then a downward yank while cutting the supply, to create that pointy top.

Inverted dunk into warm chocolate-stuff, a pause for partial hardening, then a roll in the tray of nuts. Serviette around cone. Into the six-cone stand. $3.50 thanks.

A few streets along, two boys were waiting - the younger on a trike, the older clutching a flapping $20.

"It's hard to read body language," said Russell. "You get a lot of kids just coming out for a look, so you have to just look for the note."

He parked, scooted out the back and poked his head out.

"Hey dudes. That's a cool bike. Did you get it for Christmas?"

He saw the scab on the rider's nose.

"Woah! You've fallen off already!"

Two single chocolate-dips with a flake: $7.

It adds up. A good van should be turning over $180,000-$200,000 a year, "and I'm coming away with half of that for myself. It's a good living".

In middle-class suburbs like this, Russell usually only visits on weekends. That's when dads are around and they're less likely to deny their kids.

Timing's different in the poorer suburb of Otara, where sales peak around benefit day.

Once, in Otara, a drunk woman came running out of a house, asking for help.

"She was like ‘Help me, help me', and she jumped in the cab and then this big guy came running down the driveway.

"I burned around the corner, and she said ‘Can you drop me at Aunty's house? He's going to beat me up man'. So I took her around the corner, made her an icecream and dropped her at her aunty's."

Most days something interesting happens. Just on Thursday, Russell was driving along when he felt a BOOM on his roof, then another. He stopped, and realised he was being attacked.

"There were two kids up a tree in camo gear with guns and a packet of grapefruit. They were waiting for me. I go to that street every Thursday."

Did they buy icecreams?

"No. But I threw a grapefruit back at them."

Sunday Star Times