At the end of June the summer stretched out shimmering and boundless before us. We were full of plans and good intentions. As is often the case, some of the plans came to fruition and some did not. Many of the best moments, in fact, happened in the absence of any kind of schedule at all but were stumbled upon because we were free to meander and roam, unfettered by the school run.
Inevitably, seemingly only a few short weeks later, it was time to start shopping for school shoes and begin sewing name tapes onto jumpers yet again. But we had had a good run. The evenings had been long and bright. The sun had shone. Cool, damp days had been mercifully rare. We had more than our fair share of al fresco dining. We had sampled scoops of ice-cream the length and breadth of the province. We had felt the sand between our toes.
Unfortunately, however, back when we still in the earliest throes of the heatwave, a kind of optimistic madness had descended and before I knew what had happened we had decided to host a BBQ for a group of friends and their children. Regrettably in the very planning of the event, we had broken the one essential rule of Irish dining dans le jardin: it has to be right now. There can be absolutely no planning ahead. If it is sunny outside, you must drop everything you are doing, rush outside, push the cat off the patio table and coax those coals into flame. Right now. Do not under any circumstances try anything fancy like picking a date in the future, sending out invitations, planning a complicated menu or hiring extra furniture so people can sit in comfort. Because the weather will hear you and will have more than enough time to plan a spectacular thundershower just as your guests are arriving.
An outdoor housewarming party had seemed like the obvious progression in hosting terms when the skies were cornflower blue until 10.30 in the evening, the kitchen was too hot to cook anything in and the patio furniture, topped by a jaunty parasol, sat resplendent in the shimmering heat. Some weeks later, however, it had begun to seem like a distinctly ill-advised prospect as we dodged outside between showers to set out the chairs.
For, as Beloved and I chased the paper tablecloths around the garden in gathering gale force winds, a heavy sense of unease had begun to settle. I had spent the preceding week checking the weather forecast every 2 hours. This vigilance had increased to once every 20 minutes on the morning of the big day. No matter how much checking I did, however, the sorry fact remained: a persistent low pressure front had swept in and was hanging stubbornly over Thompson Towers. Actually low pressure fronts don’t usually sweep. They tend to creep rather than sweep. They slither, they edge. The act of sweeping suggests a decisive and resolute act. Low pressure fronts are far far too sneaky for that. It might be more accurate therefore to say that a low pressure front had sidled its way over Thompson Towers and was refusing to move. The forecast was still fairly optimist. The weather was not due to turn nasty until much later in the evening. This piece of information was all my hope.
When the party idea had been initially mooted, small one had immediately mounted a persistent and ultimately successful campaign to have a bouncy castle. It had duly been delivered mid-morning of the day in question. It was now standing unrepentantly in the front garden, totally obscuring the front of the house. Its colour scheme had all the subtlety of an early 90s tv presenter’s shell suit. It had a roof with a disco ball inside and was playing Katy Perry and Justin Bieber hits in rotation at a suitably neighbour-rattling volume. She, of course, was delighted and had spent all morning joyfully bouncing and singing along. I, on the other hand, had spent the morning whipping 65 litres of double cream and buttering 189 finger rolls.
In the great battle of wind versus table coverings we had eventually emerged the victors. In the manner of sailors battening down the hatches in the face of Storm Ophelia we had managed to secure the paper tablecloths using a heady mix of dexterity, determination and 17 rolls of sticky tape. With coats snapping in us in the face and table cloths threatening to forcibly parascend us down the garden, we persevered. I lay bodily along the tables, octopus-like, attempting to hold down all the edges while Beloved gritted his teeth and applied sticky tape to every square inch.
Anyone overhearing our conversation at this point might have assumed that trial separation was on the cards. But it was simply that we were enthusiastically encouraging each other in our endeavours. Because of course aggressively whispered interchanges such as “You’ve stuck my coat to the table AGAIN!” and “Well if you could actually stay still, I might actually make some progress…” are what pass for the language of love in these moments of adversity.
The sky was dull but it was still dry outside as we finished the last half an hour of frenzied preparation before the guests began to arrive. No sooner had the very first of our friends ambled up the drive than the first light drops began to fall. By the time half of our guests had arrived, and obligingly set up their picnic chairs around the tables we had set out, the intermittent drops had turned to persistent drizzle.
Being both hardy and optimistic (and perhaps also having witnessed the storm cloud that had passed over my face as the sky had correspondingly darkened) they persevered around the table and huddled under the parasol for another half an hour. Small children ate soggy hot dogs with their hoods up and accidentally drank rain water out of their paper cups before their parents had time to pour them an actual drink. Only half of the food was actually ready. Beloved, with that very familiar Irish bbq look (scorched eyebrows, rosy cheeks and rain running out of his hair), was persevering at the grill like a Trojan. (Historical aside - I have no idea if the Trojans were fond of the grill. If they were I have no doubt they would have presided over it with the same resolute fervency they applied to their battles). In any event the weather was winning.
At the same time I had become aware of the sound of indistinct howling. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the pop-tastic disco castle. Unfortunately, small wet feet had turned a gentle bounce into something of an extreme sport as the floor became more and more wet and slippery. Some partygoers were embracing the extra thrill that this afforded. Some were not.
At this point the heavens opened. Being now unable to actually see each other through the driving rain, we were forced to declare defeat and make for the house. Our long-suffering guests indiscriminately grabbed bottles of pop and chairs and balled up soggy napkins and crying slippery children and we all stumbled indoors with water streaming from every crevice.
My treacherous mind chose this exact moment to conjure the vision I had once had for the event. Way back in the balmy days of June it had seemed realistic to suppose that we would all be sitting in the balmy sunlit garden, beverages in hand, making sparkling conversation while the birds sang and the children bounced. This cosy reverie now provided a highly colourful contrast to real-time events as they were unfolding. I tentatively glanced into the house and recoiled. There were now suddenly 30 wet, hungry people trapped inside. Wet coats filled the hall and puddled the floor. The kitchen was full of bodies and dripping plates complete with half eaten burgers floating in rainwater. The windows had begun to steam up.
I briefly considered running away to Denmark to open a wildlife shelter and organic sea-mineral spa. Weighing up the pros and cons I had to admit that it might be extremely hard to get last-minute flights to Scandinavia this late in the season.
I sighed and turned reluctantly back into the house. I looked again at the cheerful faces of our guests. They seemed strangely unmoved by this dramatic turn of events. Several had taken in hand the enormous salmon that I had been cooking before the torrent had descended and which I had had to abandon when the heavens opened. It now appeared, steaming, from the oven, seemingly perfectly cooked despite everything. Everyone else lent a hand as we wiped the rain from the bottles of Irn Bru and dried off the burgers. In no time at all the party was in full swing once again.
By the time we were enjoying some ice cream and pavlova we had forgotten that we were ever supposed to be outside in the first place. Guests who had been using the bouncy castle in the manner of a slip-and-slide had to have their clothes peeled off, right down the underwear, and have them tumble-dried. But other than that the house was jolly and full of the chatter of dear friends, munching cake and cradling cups of coffee while their outerwear gently steamed in the hall.
Later that evening, as we waved off the last of our guests, the rain had finally begun to abate. But it left behind a fresh clear coolness in the evening air that we had not felt for a long time. There would be no more BBQs for a while. For, as is the usual way of things, no sooner are we truly settled in one season than it starts to slip and meld into the next. Summer pursuits were coming to an end and instead a steaming hot bath and a large cup of tea beckoned.
With autumn not too far behind.Back to all Articles