August – what? (30.2021)

How did it get to be August already? July seemed to pass in a very short blip of time. Is it because I spent so much time doing jigsaw puzzles?

This week we had our big social event of the summer which was hosting five people for a barbecue.

Our barbecue trademark is overcatering.

Seven people for a barbecue? Then we should have enough meat to feed at least 14; plus carrot sticks, crisps and dips; plus wine; plus Pimms because people might not want wine; and we’ll put some cans of tonic in the fridge in case someone wants a gin and tonic; plus we’ll make potato salad because that’s always popular; plus we’ll make some tiramisu balls and fruit cake because people like sweet things too.

But then our guests also brought wine, and carrot sticks and crisps and dips. And they brought bread and sparkling water and cheese and cous cous and halloumi cheese that we cooked but realised it actually wasn’t halloumi cheese but it did provoke a discussion about what kind of cheese it might have been.

Having fed and watered seven people for several hours, we wake up this morning to discover our fridge is actually more full today than it was yesterday because it’s stacked with extra dips and cheese and leftover meat and leftover potato salad and half a bottle of sparkling water. And we now have six packs of crisps in the cupboard.

But it was good to have a group of people over, people who didn’t know each other beforehand, several of whom had been living on their own through this last year of pandemic. Everyone seemed to talk to everyone else and get along fine. Although it was a little stressful at the beginning because three guests arrived in short succession at the same time I was putting the meat on to cook on the grill (because yes, contrary to Australian tradition, I am always the Tongmaster when we have a barbecue).

Side note on the role of Tongmaster: It was one of our first barbecues when we moved to this house. Our friends at the time were mostly Antipodean – from Australia and New Zealand. So when the barbecue was fired up and I picked up the tongs to start grilling the meat, then-boyfriend-now-Husband was grilled by the Antipodean men: What was he was thinking, letting a woman hold the tongs at a barbecue? Then-boyfriend-now-Husband shrugged it off. I’m crap at cooking on a barbecue, I burn everything. Seeing they would get no rise from him, they turned their attention to me. Literally. I cooked with an audience of three or four men sipping at their beers and watching me, to make sure I was doing the job properly, making sure the sausages got an even tan without burning, that the fat on the lamb chops wasn’t spitting and catching fire, that the chicken was cooking all the way through without me committing that potentially salmonella-inducing barbecue crime of being blackened on the outside but still pink and raw in the middle. I could tell I had successfully passed their test for performing the role of Tongmaster when they started to drift away and let me get on with it.

But it must have been difficult for them, because the smoky area around the grill is normally a sacred male space in Australia and New Zealand, where men gather to talk about… well I suppose they talk about cricket and things like that. But it was nice to have some company while I was cooking. Quite often the role of Tongmaster is a lonely one, as people don’t want to enter the smoky hot zone of the barbecue. As you cook people’s food, you hear people laughing and chatting behind you, and you wish you could be sitting down and chatting and snacking on crisps too. But no. Having taken up the tongs, you must see the role of Tongmaster through to the end.

***

International book club is progressing in that we have a list of at least 12 books suggested by the five members so far. Wild by Cheryl Strayed seems to be a popular choice for our first book. I’ve read it before but am happy to whip through it again. We’re going to try and tee up a first meeting this week to say “Hi” and test out how it’s going to work with early morning New Zealand, mid-evening UK and mid-afternoon Canada. Meanwhile, the local book club meeting looks like it’s going to be bumped again as the host realised she had booked tickets for the circus that night. And actually, I forgot about local book club and booked theatre tickets for the night it was scheduled l so I kind of hope it will get bumped to Thursday night.

***

Jami Attenberg is running another 1000 words of summer – a mini version this time. Just six days of writing 1000 words. All this past week I’ve been reading through my novel outline and my work in progress draft and making and updating my notes: from “unwritten” to “written” for some scenes (feels like victory!) and for “needs rewrite” adding some notes about why it needs a rewrite. Plus tweaking some things as I go along (like those scenes where my main character’s is called Maggie). It’s good to feel re-engaged with this text and to feel like I’m making progress towards finishing it. So if I can finish my review this week, I’ll be ready to apply myself to writing the unwritten and re-writing the wrongly written from 8-13 August.

***

My departmental trip for the Ben Nevis climb is making progress in that people are asking questions on the group chat about how to get to Glasgow and Fort William (because no-one ever heard of Google?) Having lived in Glasgow for some months (albeit many years ago), I have advised people about airports and train stations, but I’m sure I will need to repeat several times that if you’re taking the train from London to Glasgow, you will need to change train stations for the train to Fort William. I’ve made my own plans and booked my trains already. I’m going to travel up by train on Thursday evening, stay in a cheap hotel overnight in Glasgow and then take the West Highland Line early the next morning to arrive in Fort William lunchtime on Friday. We climb the Ben on Saturday, and on Sunday, when everyone else pootles off back to London, I’m staying an extra night in Fort William and leaving early on Monday morning to travel back to Glasgow and on to London.

I’m doing this because I want to see the West Highland Line in daylight, twice. I took this train once before (I worked out it was November 1995 – back before digital cameras and mobile phones!) and the scenery was so beautiful it has been fixed in my mind ever since as one of the most beautiful train trips I’ve ever taken. In fact, I was so moved by the expanse that is Rannoch Moor, I put in my will I want my ashes scattered there.

Picture (c) Alan Mitchell

I have booked this route to see this scenery again in daylight and also – crucially – to travel on my own without other people interfering in my happy enjoyment of the scenery. I just want to put on some music and look out the window and jot down thoughts in my journal. If I’m travelling with other people I’ll have to talk to them and look at them and not be looking at the scenery and that would be such a shame. I’m not unsocial. It’s just that in the same way you wouldn’t try to talk to someone sitting next to you during a religious service, I don’t want someone to talk to my while I’m enjoying my spiritual communion with the Scottish landscape.

I hope you find some space for spiritual communion with something this week.

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