He is a merchant of joy and ice-cream is his product. The rich and their family array themselves in their homes for him. He sets up his goods, neatly labelled jars kept cold in tubs of melting ice. Everyone has a chance to sample the contents: cold on the tongue, rich, sweet. Ice-cream is a surprise, bringing laughter, bringing smiles.

Bringing joy.

A spoon of white sugar unsplash-logo Image by Sharon McCutcheon

The merchant explains: “The one you’re trying now is certainly expensive. All these samples use sugar we ship in from the colonies, but that one — that flavour comes from vanilla, such a rare thing because our attempts to cultivate it have so far failed, so we are forced to hire workers to explore distant jungles, harvesting in small quantities what you have just tasted.”

And the clients are pleased by the story he spins them, pleased by the coldness and the flavours and the sensations.

The merchant returns to the factory.

Its sturdy roof and windowless walls support the weight of the mechanical drive shaft that runs from the ground floor up, up, through all four floors to the ceiling. The refrigeration units powered by this are scattered through the building, seeping ammonia that can be smelt throughout.

This is forward thinking industrialisation: blending machinery and chemical methods of refrigeration with the politics of modernity, cheap labour replacing animals to run this drive shaft, a team of people on every floor working around the clock to push the drive shaft (frozen goods must never melt), cutting costs while improving safety.

The merchant feels pride.

The ground-floor foreman calls the shift change. Fresh crew slip into the shafts while sweaty, tired workers wash themselves at the water pump in the street, taking their small pay to wherever they sleep for the night.

If they can sleep. No rest for the wicked, after all. How else to bring joy into the world?