Watching grown men eat ice-cream

Brigid O’Dea: I delight in listening to serious-minded men double-check the server has noted their order for raspberry sauce

A number of months ago, I was wandering home after a day in the park with my nephew, Simon and Garfunkel jingling in my ears.

I get the news I need on the weather report

ah ahh

I can gather all the news I need on the weather report


When I was stopped by an elderly man, grinning.

Hey, I’ve got nothing to do today but smile

Da-n-da-da-n-da-dan-da-da and here I am

I removed my AirPods and was immediately met with the jubilant jangle of Fairview Park; dogs barking, children shrieking and the distant clank of skateboards hitting the half-pipe as they descended from their tricks.

“Is that an ice-cream truck?” the elderly man asked me.

“It is!” I replied.

“In March!” he exclaimed.

“It’s a sunny day,” I smiled back at him. “Treat yourself.”

The elderly man returned my smile and continued his journey, shaking his head in bewilderment at the very notion.

Summer had arrived early and with it my favourite season; grown men eating ice-cream.

When I holidayed in Italy, I used to love watching the elderly Italian men gathered on the cobbled yellow streets eating ice-cream. They would congregate in groups, clean loose shirts with soft collars and softer eyes, and chat together as they enjoyed their ice-creams in the lazy afternoon sun. Laughter emanated from their well-loved bellies and the air between them was plump with camaraderie.

Il dolce far niente.

The joy of doing nothing.

A few years ago, I met my hilarious cousin for dinner in Neon Restaurant on Camden Street. At the time, the restaurant served free 99 cones at the end of your meal. As we finished our noodles, and my cousin finished a typically outrageous story about a man on a date saving a pigeon, we watched a group of suited businessmen rise from their seats to avail of their complimentary ice-cream. They shook hands and thoughtfully thumbed their jaws before making their way to the ice-cream machine to pull their very own whipped cones. Their furrowed brows quickly turned to giggles as they returned to the table with treat in hand. The stiff atmosphere melted away.

At the end of Barack Obama’s US presidency, a strew of photographs emerged of the then vice-president, now president, Joe Biden eating ice-cream cones. One Google search will bring up a lot of hits. I know this because I’ve done it. Many times. In one photograph, the president holds two cones. In another more recent edition, he holds a large chocolate waffle cone with a mask pulled down to his chin. It is a powerful image. This simple dairy indulgence transforms Biden from leader of the free world and the man with his finger on the nuclear button to Uncle Joe, the affable elder statesman who knows, like the rest of us, that ice-cream is best served in a waffle cone.

I often see a lone elderly man eating an ice-cream on the Clontarf seafront. I love seeing his thick livered-spotted hands gently hold the cone while he looks out to the sea with a beatific smile. Shoulders arched and sports jacket gently flapping in the breeze. Boyish once again. An ice-cream; the greatest anti-ageing product of all.

I delight in listening to serious-minded men double-check that the server correctly has heard their order for raspberry sauce, eagerly watching as the sprinkles are applied and hastily chasing the melting ice-cream dribbling down the cone and up their jacket sleeve with their tongue. An ice-cream is an invite to connect with our joyful, playful and carefree selves. With whipped cone in hand, we relinquish any serious notions we may hold of who we are and who we need to be.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering where migraine comes into this. How does chronic illness relate to grown men eating ice-creams?

It doesn’t.

I’m just sick of writing about migraine.

When you live with chronic illness sometimes your life can centre on that; pain, illness, loss and frustration. Very often it is also centred on lots of other things. Fun things, lovely things, sad things, silly things.

Like watching grown men eat ice-cream …