It may seem absurd but when I finally returned to California to see my parents in January this year, after two years of not seeing them due to the pandemic and being disabled by it, one of the things that struck me most about arriving in their house was the lack of ice in the freezer.
I grew up in the Midwest of the US, where access to unlimited ice is some strange human right. That along with unlimited ketchup, sugar packets, napkins. Doesn’t really matter what season it is. If the drink isn’t hot, it comes smothered in ice.
As a child, I learned that people in other parts of the world have a different relationship to ice. That it’s used only on the hottest of days, and sparingly, as there aren’t the same ice-making facilities. I remember asking an Italian waiter for ice for my coke (“the champagne of New York” he said), and he came running out onto the terrace with a pair of tongs and an ice cube, that he dropped into my glass with flare.
As my mum is English, she never really subscribed to this obsession with ice either, and I grew up seeing my mum ask American hospitality workers to bring her drinks without ice. But we always used to have some ice in the freezer. Mostly for others.
When my parents moved into this house in California, they got one of those fridges with the ice maker in the door, where you can press your glass on the front of the fridge and ice slices rocket out of it. It doesn’t take much maintenance as far as I can tell, just access to water.
Before the pandemic, my brother and his family visit on a fairly regular basis, making use of this ice. So I suppose ultimately they were the reason for ice provision, as my parents weren’t too social.
And for Northern Hemispherians it may seem strange to want ice in January. But in that corner of Southern California, we were already having what in England would be hot days.
The lack of ice made me realise also how isolated my parents were, because socially in the US, not having ice for your visitors is like not having chairs or a toilet.
All of this came to me as I was sat in the garden of my local pub, on a very hot summer solstice, served room temperature real cider.
My partner has learned that while I’m not obsessed with ice, I kinda do see it as a staple of modern life. Leaving the ice tray empty is an act of carelessness. In homage to this, she bought a classy, old-style metallic tray, where the divider lever off, leaving a tray full of beautiful oblique ice “cubes”. If we anticipate a need, we keep an extra spill over box so that we will ALWAYS have ice.
As visitors start to return to our lives, we’re ready for those infrequent English days.