Tina de Freitas: ice cream van lady

17 Jul

It’s not just children who love Tina’s Ices – the electrically-powered, super quiet ice cream van parked by Highbury Fields playground. When the sun comes out you may well spot builders trying to cool off, adults treating themselves and even dog walkers in the queue. Tina De Freitas knows there’s nothing so bad that a 99 cone with strawberry sauce and a spoonful of sprinkles can’t make better. Interview by Nicola Baird.

It’s not just children who love Tina’s Ices – the electrically-powered, super quiet ice cream van parked by Highbury Fields playground. When the sun comes out you may well spot joggers trying to cool off, adults treating themselves and even dog walkers in the queue. Tina De Freitas knows there’s nothing so bad that a 99 cone with strawberry sauce and a spoonful of sprinkles can’t make better. Interview by Nicola Baird. “My first day here selling ice cream was my first Mother’s Day, in March 1998, my son Marcus was a baby, and I had no clue about ice-cream. This was not my dream,” here Tina gestures at me with a laugh because I’m sitting in the driving seat of her colourfully decorated ice cream van - surely most children’s dream office chair? It’s certainly a magical place to interview a busy ice cream seller. It also makes Highbury Fields - with its tunnel of London plane trees and mowed paths winding through the long grass – look the perfect spot to spend time with an ice cream. But for Tina it’s just a job, though one she now loves. On that first day she was in the same Shalimar van but had persuaded her now ex-partner (also an ice cream seller) to paint her name on the bits that needed tidying up – hence “Tina’s Ices”. At first they worked together, each in their own van. Tina got the spot be the playground where she still parks up. He was by the exit near the swimming pool. Give us a 99  In Tina’s native Portugal, they don’t have vans selling ice-cream. “Back home every Sunday after church I had an ice cream as a treat. I don’t really eat it now” – which is perhaps lucky for her waist line as she has 1,000s of ice creams in her vanilla-scented van. During a sunny July lunchtime rush people snap up rocket lollies, 99s, calypso, twin cones, single cones, Mr Bubble, Solero, Mint Magnum, lemon ice and two scoops.  And for every child there’s a kind word. Regulars – especially students at Canonbury and William Tyndale “all know me and say ‘hello Tina’,” she says as a group of students walk back to their primary school, heads swizzled towards her van, after a morning of sports on Highbury Fields.” When Tina started 15 years ago she didn’t know how to make a 99 – now she knows all about this most popular of all ice cream van choices. “They never were 99p,” says Tina. “They were invented in the 1930s when money was different (pre decimalisation) it was pounds, shillings and no ice cream cost 99 pence. The reason why it is 99 is the chocolate is called 99 flake” [she shows me the yellow Cadbury’s box to prove her point]. “I have this argument every day. It can take a while to explain to tourists that it is just the name of the ice cream!” Despite such a huge selection the most expensive item Tina sells is just £2.50.  And she has to work long hours – often starting at 7.30am at the cash and carry, an hour commute, and then once at her pitch there is no time to drink, eat anything but a snack or even pop to the loo. “People do make comments when they sun comes out,” says Tina injured, “they shout ‘Oy you must be making a fortune’, forgetting I’ve been here three months doing nothing. But most people are “generally very nice in Highbury, the children too.” With one exception “One day I heard lots of police sirens – then suddenly someone jumped in through the window (it’s quite a small serving hatch). I assumed he was going to rob me and I ran out of the van, screaming. This was 12 or 13 years ago. But he was wanted by the police, and they found him. I remember his face – but now he comes and buys ice cream with his wife and kids. He’s never said anything to me. I don’t think he’s told his wife!” Maths lessons Plenty of families use an ice cream treat as a chance to offer first lessons in maths. Tina is happy to help – “if I know the child well, then I’ll count the change out. Sometimes I’ll trick them and give them too much or too little to see if they notice.” She’s far too kind to let a child make a mistake, but it’s certainly a good way to learn. In fact Tina’s son, now 16, “used to come in the van every day when he was little. He learnt his colours and counting here before he went to school,” remembers Tina looking around the tiny space she works in and then up at the printed van roof, decorated with cute characters holding vanilla cones. “That’s why he doesn’t like to come now, he thinks he’s too big.” But he’s wrong! As Tina puts it, “There’s no age limit for an ice cream.” Although she does admit to quiet amusement at the adults who “come for a jog, and then have an ice cream after. I think it’s going to kill them – being hot then eating something cold -but it is good for business.” Over the years Tina has made many friends, seen children grow up and even won the hearts of the Highbury Fields Association. She’s pleased too to have the electric power supply. “There were a lot of complaints from the neighbours, but it is better for me too. It saves on diesel and the engine is turned off.” Tina’s Ices by Highbury Fields playground sells ice creams and cold drinks seven days a week from about 12 noon until 8.30-9pm during the summer. (If it’s a cold day Tina works from 1-6pm). Find her there from March-October. PIC CAPTIONS: “My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job. “I don’t do much in the winter – I look after the house and be a 100 per cent mother. In summer I spend more time on Highbury Fields than in my house.” “The mini ice-cream van on the steering wheel is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to get there.” “I’m a very cool driver,” says Tina who commutes from Woodford, Essex. “When drivers see an ice cream van they bip or overtake. There’s no point in retaliating or being rude, if I was they’d follow, and everyone knows where an ice cream van goes.”


“I’m a very cool driver,” says Tina who commutes from Woodford, Essex in her Tina’s Ices van. “When drivers see an ice cream van they bip or overtake. There’s no point in retaliating or being rude, if I was they’d follow, and everyone knows where an ice cream van goes.”

“My first day here selling ice cream was my first Mother’s Day, in March 1998, my son Marcus was a baby, and I had no clue about ice-cream. This was not my dream…” here Tina gestures at me with a laugh because I’m sitting in the driving seat of her colourfully decorated ice cream van, surely most children’s dream office chair? It’s certainly a magical place to interview a busy ice cream seller. It also makes Highbury Fields – with its tunnel of London plane trees and mowed paths winding through the long grass – look the perfect place to spend time with an ice cream.

“My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job.

“My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job.

But for Tina it’s just a job, though one she now loves. On that first day she had a smaller older van. The one she’s using today she persuaded her now ex-partner (also an ice cream seller) to paint her name on the bits that needed tidying up – hence “Tina’s Ices”. At first the couple worked together in Islington, each in their own van. Tina got the spot be the playground where she still parks up. He was by the exit near the swimming pool.

Sweet treat 
In Tina’s native Portugal, they don’t have vans selling ice-cream. “Back home every Sunday after church I had an ice cream as a treat. I don’t really eat it now,” – which is perhaps lucky for her waist line as she has 1,000s of ice creams in her vanilla-scented van.

During a sunny July lunchtime rush people snap up rocket lollies, 99s, calypso, twin cones, single cones, Mr Bubble, Solero, mint Magnum, lemon ice and two scoops.

And for every child there’s a kind word. Regulars – especially children at Canonbury School and William Tyndale School “all know me and say ‘hello Tina’,” she says as a group of students walk back to their primary school, heads swizzled towards her van, after a morning of sports on Highbury Fields.”

I’ll have a 99
When Tina started 15 years ago she didn’t know how to make a 99 – now she knows all about this most popular of all ice cream van choices.

“They never were 99p,” says Tina. “They were invented in the 1930s when money was different (pre decimalisation) it was pounds and shillings then [and no ice cream cost as much as 99 pence]. The reason why it is called a 99 is the chocolate is called 99 flake” [she shows me the yellow Cadbury’s box to prove her point]. “I have this argument every day. It can take a while to explain to tourists that it is just the name of the ice cream!”

“The mini ice-cream van on the steering wheel is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to get there.”

“The mini ice-cream van on the dashboard of Tina’s Ices van says Tina, “is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to find time to get there.”

Despite such a huge selection of ice creams and lollies the most expensive item Tina sells is just £2.50.  And she has to work long hours – often starting at 7.30am at the cash and carry, an hour commute, and then once at her pitch there is no time to drink, eat anything but a snack, or even pop to the loo.

“People do make comments when they sun comes out,” says Tina injured, “they shout ‘Oy, you must be making a fortune,’ forgetting I’ve been here three months doing nothing.” But most people are “generally very nice in Highbury, the children too.”

With one exception
“One day I heard lots of police sirens – then suddenly someone jumped in through the window [it’s quite a small serving hatch]. I assumed he was going to rob me and I ran out of the van, screaming. This was 12 or 13 years ago. But he was wanted by the police, and they found him. I remember his face – but now he comes and buys ice cream with his wife and kids. He’s never said anything to me. I don’t think he’s told his wife!”

“My ex-partner used to have a van by the swimming pool. He felt trapped in the van – it’s a small space and it can be boring. But I love this job. You meet people and kids. I wouldn’t be in a boring job. “I don’t do much in the winter – I look after the house and be a 100 per cent mother. In summer I spend more time on Highbury Fields than in my house.” “The mini ice-cream van on the steering wheel is a present from a little boy who gave it to me for my big birthday on 25 April. I want to get another as there’s a shop on Upper Street selling vintage toys but it’s hard to get there.”

“I don’t do much in the winter – I look after the house and be a 100 per cent mother. In summer I spend more time on Highbury Fields than in my house.” 

Maths lessons
Plenty of families use an ice cream treat as a chance to offer first lessons in maths. Tina is happy to help – “if I know the child well, then I’ll count the change out. Sometimes I’ll trick them and give them too much or too little to see if they notice.” She’s far too kind to let a child make a mistake, but it’s certainly a good way to learn.

In fact Tina’s son, now 16, “used to come in the van every day when he was little. He learnt his colours and counting here before he went to school,” remembers Tina looking around the tiny space she works in and then up at the printed van roof, decorated with cute characters holding vanilla cones. “That’s why he doesn’t like to come now, he thinks he’s too big.”

But he’s wrong! As Tina puts it, “There’s no age limit for an ice cream.” Although she does admit to quiet amusement at the adults who “come for a jog, and then have an ice cream after. I think it’s going to kill them – being hot then eating something cold – but it is good for business.

Over the years Tina has made many friends, seen children grow up and even won the hearts of the Highbury Fields Association. She’s pleased too to have the electric power supply too which makes her van as good as quiet while it is parked at her pitch. “Years ago there were a lot of complaints from the neighbours, but the electric is better for me too. It saves on diesel and the engine is turned off.”

Tina’s Ices by Highbury Fields playground sells ice creams and cold drinks seven days a week from about 12 noon until 8.30-9pm during the summer. (If it’s a cold day Tina works from 1-6pm). Find her there from March-October.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

Advertisements

7 Responses to “Tina de Freitas: ice cream van lady”

  1. Caroline Russell July 18, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Tina is like the eyes and ears of the community. As each of my children turned 11 and started making their way around independently, I always knew that Tina would keep an eye out for them.

    • homemadekids July 18, 2013 at 11:02 am #

      Hi Caroline, how wonderful it is to have people like Tina looking out for Islington’s kids! Nicola

  2. Miss Frances Dunne November 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Tina is very much part of Highbury Fields. Living close to Highbury Fields me and my girls & granny visit her regularly sometimes to buy ice cream, sometimes just for a chat. My three girls adore her, she always has a smile & is always generous with her ice cream portions. A much loved character of islington. Frances

    • nicola baird blogs November 13, 2013 at 8:49 am #

      Hi Frances – thank you for reading the interview with Tina and so glad you are such a supporter of her ice cream van! Tina is an absolute islington star. Nicola

  3. Jehan December 25, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Very good post.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 of the best Islington interviews | Islington Faces Blog - November 13, 2013

    […] Tina de Freitas, ice cream van lady (17/7/13) – Tina talked to me in her ice cream van on Highbury Fields. I was so touched when she rang me months later to check if I was safe after being sent a fake SOS email, allegedly from me asking for money following a (fake) holiday emergency. […]

  2. 15 places in Islington to repair, spring clean, hack or get creative | Islington Faces Blog - February 25, 2015

    […] Tina de Freitas  Highbury Fields ice cream seller. […]

So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: