It was a mistake to tell us about the gelati-to-sightseeing ratio. This was the formula my father, his younger sister and brother came up with when being dragged round Italian churches as children. The ideal was 3:1, that is: three ice creams for each dreary chiesa. My grandparents thought it should be the other way around: three improving historic sights for every one ice cream.
Of course, once my brother and I knew about the gelati ratio — and what an astonishing thought it was that our father had once been young and had sat mutinous on the steps of the Parthenon — we knew not to be fobbed off with one lousy scoop of choc chip. We wanted a 1:1 ratio or bust. In England, slopping around the Lost Gardens of Heligan in wellies and waterproofs, we settled for hot chocolates. But on rare spring and summer days and on holiday, it was Twisters, Viennettas and three scoops of Neapolitan in glass bowls.
Outside our primary school in the summer term, an ice-cream van used to park on the hill, bonnet towards the Finchley Road. The jingle started at three minutes to four, wildly distracting to seven-year-olds doing times tables. Now when I hear an ice cream van playing ‘The Entertainer’ rag it gives me a craving — more slaveringly Pavlovian than Proustian — for a mint Cornetto, the paper peeled off in a neat helix. In the holidays we were allowed to buy Mini Milks from the corner shop, a trip that could be taken On Our Own, crossing two roads, with 20ps folded in our palms. Mini Milks taste of first London freedoms and pocket money to burn.