Life

Nuala McCann: There's nothing like a Christmas walk, especially on home ground

Here is the gift of a Christmas walk – wrap up warm. Coat, hat, gloves. Unlock the door. Step out into the fridge. It is that moment when Scott lifts the flap of the tent. But this is Belfast. There is no ice or snow, just a sharp nip in the air and a stillness on the avenue

In Belfast there tends not to be ice or snow as Scott had to contend with, just a sharp nip in the air and a stillness on the avenue

IT IS the old walk that we take... the familiar path. One year soon, we shall take the long road south to Newgrange to watch the first ray of sunshine pierce through the opening of the tombstone at winter solstice. And won't the old pagan in me smile?

For now, we enjoy the magic of the everyday. Here is the gift of a Christmas walk – wrap up warm for your present. Coat, hat, gloves. Unlock the door. Step out into the fridge. It is that moment when Scott lifts the flap of the tent and the whole snowy white Antarctic lies aglitter before him.

But this is Belfast. There is no ice or snow, just a sharp nip in the air and a stillness on the avenue.

Let the walk begin. Say hello to angry cat who has become a regular caller chez nous. He's after the Dreamies we feed him and he stalks the birds out our back. He's a yammer but we love him and hunting birds is his nature.

I'm not so terribly concerned because two bullies of magpies have chased our small birds off and I care little for those black and white divils... let angry cat deal with them and good luck.

Down around the corner we go, remembering the sweetness of this walk in summer.

How we'd set out in the honeyed light of evening, shirt sleeves rolled up, feeling the heat on our faces, walking the circle. We'd meet our neighbours coming the opposite way. They turned right at their front doors and we turned left... so, often by chance, we'd meet along the way, smile, chat a little, move on.

We'd think about ice cream – you can get gelato on our road now and freshly ground coffee made by young barristas who paint a feather or a heart in the foam on the top.

Was it so long ago that coffee was Camp with an Indian solider on the bottle; tea was always leaves and we laughed raucously at the folly of buying drinking water in a bottle when it was free from the tap.

It seems like only yesterday that I bought my first flat on the road – just before the interest rates shot up to 13 per cent and the menu meant cheap tins. Still all was grand til the postman brought an unwelcome surprise.

“What's a rates bill?” I asked my friend. Nobody warned me about those.

Rates bills just meant more baked beans and mince, carrots, spuds and onions. But we survived. And yes, they were carefree days.

Roll on 30 years and come back to the present and this walk. We saunter through the golf course and on into the park where muddy dogs bound through puddles and small children wobble on bicycles.

“It seems like only yesterday,” I say, as wheels within wheels spin in our heads and I remember our boy's first bike that we brought home from his cousins' in Manchester on the plane.

He was about four years old. He loved it, He could not tear his eyes off it as it was loaded onto the conveyor belt at Manchester airport.

At the other end, he paced nervously, like an anxious surgeon who, having just operated on the Pope, is keen to see il Papa on his feet.

The bike emerged from the plane unscathed.

But spin on down the years and our boy has outgrown that first bike and, whizzes down the avenue to meet his friends on his BMX. Whizz again and he's a man on a mission – his four wheels are my four wheels.

We are a two-driver family these days and now he stands towering over me. A neat row of pencil marks climbing the wall in our hall chart how, just like Topsy in the long ago story, he just growed and growed.

And now, on this winter walk, the longer route seems a little too long – we need to stop, catch our breath.

Then we follow the path back up past shops that are now fancy estate agent's and bakeries that are now luxury flats. We look at furniture that might necessitate the amputation of an arm and a leg and read menus in cafe windows that offer mashed avocado on sourdough or goat's cheese with candied walnuts and beetroot. But this road is still home.

And then we turn back into our avenue, step through our front door, unwrap, coat, scarf, hat... savour the memories of the walk for the dark dark nights ahead.

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