About a year ago, we went to visit one of England’s great Northern cities; at the time, V was contemplating moving there. 

Near the main square was a traditional sweetie shop, which also advertised its own home-made ices, including flavours like black cherry, chocolate, and – hold on a minute, did you say sticky toffee pudding?  I was worried V might go in on her own, but I managed to push my way through the door just ahead of her, which meant I was the first to receive the sour scowl of the lady behind the counter.  Timidly, we asked what the flavours were (they weren’t labelled); there was a good-sized tray of chocolate fudge, another of what was recognisably black cherry, and one almost-empty one containing the sticky toffee pudding. 

“Could we please have two single-scoop cones of sticky toffee?”
“No.”
“Er, why not?”
“There is only enough for one cone.”

One of us could have been selfless and requested another flavour; but it wasn’t going to be me, and it soon became clear that it wasn’t going to be V, either.  Luckily, my genius kicked in.

“Could we each have a cone with half a scoop of that, and half a scoop of the chocolate fudge?”
“No.”
“Er, um, why not?”
“Because I don’t do that.”

 V and I looked at each other, looked wistfully at the single portion of sticky toffee pudding, looked nervously at the stony-faced lady, and simultaneously nodded our goodbyes and made for the door.  The sticky toffee ice cream might have looked good, but under such circumstances it could never have tasted good.

 Out in the main square, an elderly man and his teenage grandson were manning a little push-along ice-cream cart.  V smiled and asked the senior partner what flavours he had; turned out it was just vanilla.  He asked where we were from, said that he’d love to visit Belfast, that everyone was happy it was a more peaceful place these days.  The grandson gave a sardonic grin, and said Belfast was bound to be more fun than the great northern city in which he was currently standing.  We ordered two single-scoop cones of vanilla spiked with a Cadbury’s flake, and were served with a smile, and an expression of hope that we’d enjoy our visit.  I don’t often order vanilla, but that was the best I can remember tasting: subtle vanilla flavour, light, slightly icy texture, much as I imagine the gelati will taste when I eventually get myself and V to Italy, though I don’t expect they will always come with a topping of Cadbury’s Flake.

 We did enjoy our visit, as it turned out, even though V eventually decided against moving there.  The day we left, we noticed that the sweetie shop was up for sale, though we have no way of knowing if that was the cause of the lady’s grim expression, or if she had driven away all the customers.  In either case, what we will take away from our visit is the memory of a fresh, unpretentious vanilla 99, served with love.

Vanilla with a smile

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