A ’99’ to round off a riverside walk. The cone was wrapped in a paper serviette and handed across the counter. Stepping out into the May sunshine, a bench that might have been set to overlook the river, instead ran parallel with the street, giving a view of passing traffic and houses opposite. Spurning such a panorama, a low stone wall provided a resting place beside the dark waters that were once a major thoroughfare.
The ice cream had been pumped from a machine, curving upwards in a swirl. What it possessed in appearance it lacked in taste. A ’99’ had once been a treat, Cornish ice cream and Cadbury flake. Perhaps the intensity of its taste owed much to the location where it would have been bought: usually the seaside on a summer’s evening.
Strong tastes went with special moments. Thickly coated toffee apples on wooden sticks, ginger snaps in paper bags, candy floss that left your face feeling sticky, bars of nougat that threatened to bind your teeth together: Long Sutton fair probably offered more by way of food than it did by way of funfair. The village green would have been filled to its capacity by dodgems, merry go round, swing boats and sideshows; the tastes confirmed that however small the fair might be, it was special to us.
Bags of cockles splashed with vinegar captured the saltiness of the Dorset coast. Bought from a van for a matter of pence, they went with walking the harbour wall and watching the solitary trawler unloading its day’s catch. There was always a breeze rattling the rigging of parked dinghies and always the sound of voices as people walked down the hill to the shore. Returning to Lyme Regis in recent years, it seemed to have shrunk, but it has never lost its size in the memories of favourite places.
Battered sausages came from Tony’s Fish and Chip Shop in Somerton; there has never since been a sausage that could compete with those of forty years ago. Trips to Tony’s were a Friday evening thing; the whole weekend stretched ahead and the future was a place where anything might be possible. A family occasion a few years ago was completed by a visit to Tony’s, where the order was so large, it required cardboard boxes to be carried. No words were necessary to recover those Fridays past.
Golden Wonder Cheese and Onion crisps went with pints of real ale and laughter. They went with the buyer of the round returning from the bar and scattering bags among those seated around the table. The colour coding of the flavours allowed a grab for the green packet before it was gone. There was a hierarchy of taste: cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, ready salted. The passing years brought exotic variations, prawn cocktail, smokey bacon, roast chicken, but none ever had the capacity to recall the ease of student days when the world was a place without worry.
If smell is the sense that is most closely connected with memory, then taste runs it a close second.