So, as if I need to tell you, it’s pissing down. Of course it is, what with it being July, and who doesn’t remember those sodden summers from childhood? A particular miserable memory of mine was ‘picnic time’ in Ballywalter. Grim wouldn’t be in it. A few dismal ham sandwiches would be assembled, maybe a Jacob’s cream cracker sandwiched with butter. A Penguin biscuit if we were lucky, though usually these were reserved only for break time at school. And we were piled, complaining, into the petrol blue Derby (which was, incidentally an abomination, and will be the subject of a post all of its own) and off we vroomed, to the dizzy heights of Ballywalter, so my mother and nana could take a tour of the ‘factory shop’, which for a child, was where hope went to die.
Inevitably it was raining, so we would be driven to some vantage point from where we watched the clouds gather into something of a rage, and have to remain seated IN THE CAR BECAUSE WHAT IF YOU GET WET? and eat our dreary luncheon fare. My parents had a terrible fear of children being damp, which apparently caused not just the common cold, but likely pleurisy, followed by TB, and then, quite probably death. They weren’t happy unless you thought you were at death’s door.
Then we’d go home, where further boredom would ensue. It was some craic I can tell you, being a child of the eighties in Bangor. That’s not all strictly true, as my mother will doubtless remind me, there was usually a pit-stop in Donaghadee where our lovely aunties would take pity on us and we’d be escorted to the The Cabin for their homemade ambrosia: custard ice cream. Even their large cones were pitifully small but it still saved the day. And what with it being summer, we were permitted to indulge our love of ice cream without fear of it killing us. I’ll elaborate….
To break the journey home from our cousin’s farm near Coleraine, we would stop at Mullin’s ice cream shop in Kilrea. On one notable visit, the helpful server told my brother and me that even the small tubs could hold up to three scoops. Oh, the unbridled joy as we could choose strawberry, chocolate chip and honeycomb. What a thrill, until we got in to the motor with our spoils. “Heaven help us” exclaimed my nana. “Have you ever seen the like?” Now there was no mention of tooth decay, or a tummy ache. No, she jumped straight to heart failure. Nana told us the sorry tale, which I shall try to recount here and replicate the doleful diction. “There was once a man, from the post office. And he went out of an evening, and he had a sweet tooth, and he bought himself a powerful size of an ice cream. And that very evening, he went home and took a pain in his chest. And that was the end of him.” Well. I mean for fuck’s sake, who does that to a child? There was tutting and shaking of heads from my auntie and my mum and the sound of my brother guzzling away because no amount of doom and gloom was going to come between him and his tub of delights. Was it possible to enjoy a frozen treat less? I think I ate a few spoonfuls before like Seamus Heaney, after his encounter with the angry toads ‘I sickened, turned and ran’. Of course I was in the back of the God forsaken Derby so I didn’t actually run anywhere but I retreated inwards to contemplate the perils of ice cream eating of a cold night and whether my death would be lingering, or quick.
This is all a long-winded way of suggesting that you all treat yourselves at Al’s Gelato, which has opened on the Ormeau. I think I’m already his best customer, having sampled almost every flavour already, from his mango sorbet, Bounty bar or Malteaser. Alistair makes the ice-cream himself and has strived to create a coffee bar/crêperie for when it shits it down and everyone’s too foundered for anything cold. It deserves a visit, especially if like me, you’re a person with a distinct lack of imagination when it comes to entertaining youngsters, then this is the hang out for you.
(I started writing this yesterday, as I sipped my usual one shot latte in Kaffe O, watching the raindrops bounce off the pavements. The sun is now beating down and it’s beautiful, while I wait in The Ulster to see if the small one needs a staple to the head after falling off a bench. She looks rightly, and is eating a Haribo and playing as I type. Here’s hoping no staples are required and we can get back in to the garden, although I may contemplate gluing her arse to a seat for the rest of the afternoon.)