This past weekend, my best friend N had a BBQ.  He planned it meticulously – it was a rather large scale undertaking – giving everyone two months lead time and making sure everyone was available to come.  In the weeks building up to the day, the weather looked like it was cooperating.  We have become used to balmy days, long summer evenings out in beer gardens etc.  In fact in England, if you get two warm, dry days in a row, you declare it summer and act accordingly.  (In some parts of the country, two warm, dry hours are enough for summer to be declared.  Two days would be referred to as the Great Drought of 2014. It’s all about perspective.)

Anyway.  About two weeks before, N and his family started to worry about the weather.  The BBQ is held at his parents’ home, where they have a lovely garden and – more importantly considering these particular circumstances – a large BBQ pit in the south corner.  The thing with organising large scale barbeques in England in the summer is that if you don’t have a gas or coal grill with a lid, if it rains you’re pretty much out of action.  Unlike the Regent’s Park Theatre, where hardy individuals sit in the rain, sleet and snow, teeth chattering and praying for the interval so they can down a bottle of wine and no longer feel the elements, while the actors soldier on in a very British manner; if you are cooking food over an open fire and there is water falling out of the sky at anything other than a light drizzle, your fire goes out, your meat remains uncooked, and your guests are at home thinking it ain’t happening.  Because let’s face it, at a barbeque, the star of the show is the stuff that comes off the grill, be it meat, fish (why?) or vegetables (no seriously, why?).  It’s not really the salads and the other stuff we’re there for.  That other stuff is to add a splash of colour to our plates and to give us the illusion that if we intersperse vast quantities of red meat with the occasional tomato, we are maintaining a balanced and healthy diet.  Add that to the fact that we eat standing up and we all feel that at a BBQ we hardly ate a thing.  But really, in what other situations would you eat a couple of sausages and a plate of cheese while waiting for dinner?  Do you do it at home?

“Dinner’s almost ready love, help yourself to a burger and some halloumi while the steak cooks.  I made a potato salad.”

I am sure it does happen somewhere, (and if it does, sign me up) but let’s say it’s rare and leave it at that.  Anyway, I have gone off topic a bit.  The other thing that I haven’t mentioned is that this BBQ is a Greek style BBQ and so we are not talking about a sausage per person, a couple of burgers and some chicken drumsticks here.  Chicken is for wimps, man.  We are talking about a lamb and a pig, as in the whole animals, roasting over a burning pit of coals for about six to eight hours.  So they didn’t need the weather to be nice for a couple of hours to get the grill going, cook the food and then run inside to eat it, they needed a day of uninterrupted sunshine.

About a week before, N called me up and asked me if I had seen the weather forecast.  I had a look.

BBC weather reported a heatwave in the week building up to Saturday, followed by a day of torrential rain and thunderstorms (on the Saturday) followed by another week of sunshine.  If you imagine the graphics, that was a large number of suns with one black cloud with two or three raindrops and a lightning flash emerging from it bang in the centre.  Underneath the Saturday forecast, the only thing missing was a picture of a grill with a line through it.   Immediately I felt sorry for everyone who had planned weddings, BBQs and parties for this day.  This Saturday in LATE JULY where one could reasonably expect not to have to ROW TO A BBQ for goodness’ sake.

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This is what we were imagining.

We checked all the weather websites that day.  They all said pretty much the same thing.  Heavy rain was forecast especially between the hours of 3 and 6 (the time we were all supposed to be there).  N and his family really agonised over whether or not to continue because it is one thing to have a large number of adults and children over and have them in the garden, and it is obviously quite another to have them indoors.  Anyway, on Wednesday evening, they decided to go ahead. Meat was ordered and there was no turning back. We were all thrilled because a) their BBQs are legendary and a wonderful time is had by all, b) we had had two months to become excited about seeing everyone and c) two whole animals.

Anyway, Thursday and Friday were hot, hot, hot.  32 degrees, which in Greece is a mild day, but here feels like you are being slow roasted and basted continuously in your own sweat.  I love the heat as you know, but for those among us – and there are loads of you – who are uncomfortable experiencing anything over 24 degrees, it was a nightmare.  Everywhere we went, people would be talking about the weather and how hot it was and what a nightmare getting around was and how sticky they felt – well you get the picture.  I was making regular hospital visits with my Mum during this time and I would have to take a fleece with me for inside the hospital as the air-conditioning was turned up so high.  Mum, who really hates the heat, had started to look forward to her appointments and viewed them as a chance to cool down for an hour or so.  She had also become caught up in the continual weather report checking and kept calling things out like “Heavy rains on Saturday!” and “I don’t think the weather is going to hold for you guys!”  (I never passed these messages on to N obviously as he was already feeling pessimistic enough.)  Other friends were passing around articles they had seen in various places with headings such as “Scorcher today but storms tomorrow” and “Planning a Barbie?  Forget it mate”.  It seemed as if the elements were against this BBQ ever happening.  There were really bad thunderstorms on the Thursday night, so I took that to be a good sign, with everything happening a little earlier than they had predicted.

“They don’t always get it right,” I told N on Thursday evening trying to put on my most reassuring voice.

Anyway.  The days leading up to the Saturday afternoon were full of angst for N and his family I imagine.  Also N sent out a few e-mails with details of how to get to his parents’ place and telling us that he would try and call or email to let us know if he couldn’t cook the meat.  We all became caught up in the drama of whether it would go ahead or not.

Saturday dawned miserable.

I was meeting a good friend P, for breakfast.  The restaurant is a five minute walk from my place and I made it under a huge umbrella while the rain sheeted down.  The weather reports all said that there would be rain between 9am and 1pm and 3 and 6 pm.  This would rule out the possibility of any outdoor activites and any cooked meat.  Whilst I waited for P at the restaurant, I sent a message to N saying that if he didn’t go ahead, I would take him somewhere nice for lunch.  After all, the forecast was spot on so far, it had been raining torrentially from 08:30 to 09:15.  It stopped while we were having breakfast and the sun seemed to come out.  At around 11 N called and said he was lighting the fire and hoping to cook the animals before the big storm at 4ish.

“We’re on!” I said to P, “see you later!”

As the day progressed, the sky got bluer and bluer.  I went over early to help with preparations and we were all still assuming that the eating would happen indoors.

“It’s not going to rain guys!” I said confidently at some point to N and his friend who were sitting by this roasting pit turning the handles (for 6 hours – I think a heavy rain shower would have been welcomed by them)

“Touch wood!”

“Eat your tongue!”

“You’ll jinx it!”

We carried on.  At about 3:30 the sky was so blue we moved everything outdoors.  We sat in the garden until midnight on a glorious sunny day, grateful for the fact that N had decided to go ahead and knowing that if he had cancelled and the weather had been this good he might have required some sort of counselling.

As for the animals, they were the stars of the show.  Delicious, tender, juicy, bursting with flavour and, in my humble opinion, definitely worth the worry and the wait.

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Now that’s a fire.

I only hope that N and his family agree.

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