Opinion

Dreams of cactus ice cream and rollerblades – here’s to the adventures that lie ahead

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Girls holding cone with cactus inside
There was an ice cream stall that sold cactus flavour (LightFieldStudios/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A kind boss and friend sent an old column of mine that he had come upon about a long-ago holiday in Nice.

Our boy was about nine at the time. I remember the plane came in so low, it felt like its belly grazed the sea.

We got an apartment at a bargain price in the old town, all quaint alleyways and dark corners. The thing was we were on the fifth floor and there was no lift. You’d have needed a Sherpa and an oxygen mask for the climb.

By the time we got up there, we needed a large gin and when we thought of going back down again, we needed another one to brace for the descent.

But that was 20 years ago and how time flies in the blink of an eye. The pencil marks marching up the wallpaper in our hallway chart our boy’s growth, line by mounting line.

“Perhaps it’s time to paint over ye olde pencil marks,” I say, but his dad had made the marks – “Here, see how you’re grown” – and his dad is a little sentimental. He has every drawing that our little Picasso ever made – unfortunately, our son got the McCann recessive art gene.



And you can’t keep everything. I am clearing and cleaning; the reliquary of a small child’s life will be raided soon and the pencil marks on the wall will get a good coating of Dulux.

Ah, but how memories feed you in harder times.

Reading about Nice, I remember going to the patisserie every morning for fresh warm croissants and pains au chocolat. There was a particular ice cream stall that sold cactus flavour and that intrigued our boy.

“What would cactus flavour be like, mum,” he’d ask, and I’d say green and prickly – a bit of an exotic nettle.

Nettle soup in bowl on wooden surface
Nettle leaf soup Nettle soup (Nikolay_Donetsk/Getty Images)

Not that I’ve any truck with nettles since I au paired and the granny – a countess in a chateau – fed the baby bottle loads of her nettle soup and left me to deal with the nappies. It was nettle soup a la Vesuvius – dark green explosions that nearly put me off babies for life.

But on that holiday in Nice, we wondered if cactus ice cream would prickle our tongues – we had to have it. It didn’t prickle and it tasted of, well, cactus… who’s to know?

Down on the fancy promenade we saw the beautiful chic people in designer sunglasses and itsy bitsy bikinis.

We watched a man in his 50s glide with such grace on his rollerblades. He went backwards, weaving between a series of paper cups – magic. He made it look effortless and our boy and I swore we would take up the sport on our return home.

Boy riding roller skates in park
Boy riding roller skates in park Rollerskating in the park (chabybucko/Getty Images)

And indeed we spent an eventful afternoon in Boulevard de L’Ormeau Park with son slipping and sliding and grabbing wildly as he fell over and me wondering was there a 10-hour slot for him up in the hospital Accident and Emergency and a plaster cast with his name on it.

Alas they didn’t have rollerblades in my size – quel disappointment (not!).

Like the bottle of blue curacao that looked so special and inviting at a sunny beach bar in Greece, the call of the rollerblades was a holiday thing that didn’t truly translate to Belfast.

Retirement is a time when the world lies spread out ahead, full of opportunity and new beginnings

I’m thinking of all that in these early days of retirement. It’s a time when the world lies spread out ahead, full of opportunity and new beginnings.

So far I’ve made it to yoga and I’ve made it to Spanish classes. My mind is not the sponge it once was... I forget too easily. Words elude me.

But there’s a sense of new horizons – cactus ice cream and foreign climes. Here’s to the adventures that lie ahead.