Barbecue Saturday!

The barbecue, place settings, and Plough await the ravenous throng in Sparty Lea

Seems like it might be our first real opportunity of the year for a family barbecue today! Our brother-in-law is from South Africa, and his life is built around barbecues, which down south in hearty Herefordshire he fires up every chance he gets. But up on the windy fell side of Sparty Lea, the barbecue opportunity really doesn’t arise so often.

The Easter weekend is a grand exception, which seemed to have kicked off by Thursday already, when balmy breezes and beneficent sunshine from the coast to Sparty held us all in thrall. I suppose it’s a good weekend for extended families to get together too, much as ours is doing, with our neighbours on the hill, to enjoy a day of relaxation in 20º temperatures, and some blisteringly brilliant cooking by the more errhmm, amateur chefs in our midst — the ones who don’t cook actually all that often, really.

The cat tries to get in on the act too, bringing in her freshly-dispatched adolescent rabbits and munching cheerfully through their brains. She’s not allowed to roast them on the barbie though — too much fur!

But not everybody can get home to ours, and we’re missing members enjoying their extended family in Belfast, or mellowing out on the streets of London and its suburbs. We’ll probably all be missing parts of our family, throughout these Allen Valleys, as we relax and chill, and of course we’ll be wishing them well from afar, throughout the holiday weekend.

And absent friends too: from as far afield as Australia and California, Philadelphia and Paris, Devon and Dubai, Toronto and Timbuktu, Munich and Mumbai, Newcastle and Nenthead, it’s a good weekend to think of how valuable our friendships have been, still are, and will be in the future.

What will we chat about as we cook, eat and drink, together? The Notre Dame fire, certainly, and the heroic fire fighters who saved the structure from certain and absolute destruction — and St. Cuthbert’s muffled bells solemnly pealing in solidarity with all the church bells across the country on Maunday Thursday evening, to show universal sadness over the building’s devastation. The Mueller report that does nothing like exonerate President Trump (no schadenfreude there, only dirty rats getting away with lies and cheating ways all over again). The meteoric fall from grace of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau (almost certainly not, far too boring :). The enlightened grace of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern . . . (maybe?). The next steps in the Brexit process (almost inevitably a nah!). Far more likely than any and all of these news items will be such topics as: proposed holiday adventures, gardening duties and projects, pets and hobbies, ‘Line of Duty’, ‘Game of Thrones’, other series faves, the common parlance of friendly chat, certainly. These conversations will swirl around us, in and out, naturally as smoke from the barbecue. Relaxed family chit-chat is good, of course, great to catch up with the present, dream of the future, reminisce about the past, all of the above, but is that ‘it‘?

Maybe we might try to delve into things that matter deeply, like how important we are to each other, how it feels to be part of this family at this point in our various lives, whether we could do better at communicating perhaps, or expressing ourselves. What if one of us is actually deeply unhappy? How will we know unless we ask? It doesn’t have to be like, putting somebody on the spot in front of everybody, of course, when every one of us has a public persona that hides behind ‘being all right’.

Maybe we can find time for the one-to-one talks beloved of the movies, like while someone is doing the washing-up, basting the barbecue offerings on the fire, walking down to the bottom of the lane with the dog, giving Plough a special treat, ambling through the garden. What if we’re letting somebody down by not asking directly about themselves? Or by pretending that everything is just fine if the surface conversation is going along contentedly? Or, conversely, how lovely if one or more of us is actually, seriously, absolutely committed on a path of fulfilment that just ticks the boxes of delight, of being a ‘happy human’. How to celebrate that amazing circumstance, with just a few words in the right place and the right way? It’s challenging, isn’t it, to delve deeper than the surface on these matters, and yet, to be truly responsive, don’t we have to try?

Later on down the road, another diary entry will try to deal with these things, the things we don’t say, in an attempt to understand how to delve into our emotional selves. There’s a lot more to a diary than mere intellect, utility, and daily affairs, cheerful conversation about nothing, after all.

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