Thursday, July 2, 2009

Barbecue Days - Reflections on the Irish Summer

I haven't blogged in almost two weeks and perhaps I have been waiting for something momentous to happen in my life. All I have done since Immrama is worked during the week and relaxed at the weekends - messing about in the garden when the weather is good and looking at the plants instead of weeding or doing something useful. You can see some of the plants in full bloom now, the lily was short-lived but spectacular, and the banana trees bring a bit of tropical memory into our lives. I still marvel that they thrive every summer while they die off at the first frost.

We had some lovely fine weather after the Immrama festival and decided on the spur of the moment the following weekend to get a new barbecue. Off we went to Toss Bryan's in Fermoy, a nearby market town in north-east Co. Cork, only about 15 miles from Lismore but a world away as it is across the county border, with its fierce GAA inter-county rivalry which manifests itself whenever Cork and Waterford are playing each other in hurling. Then the red and white of Cork pits itself against the blue and white of Waterford and local loyalties come to the fore.

But I digress. The barbecue has a unique place in Irish life, as we are a cold northern European country with erratic and unpredictable weather patterns when we can have all four seasons in one day, but we like to think we have a sunny Mediterranean outlook on life. Hence the first sighting of the summer sun is guaranteed to bring out the inner hunter/gatherer hidden deep in the psyche of all Irish males (or Irish-based ones, as hubby isn't Irish!) and they rush to grill any piece of meat within reach. This sometimes results in mass food poisoning when "cremated on the outside, raw on the inside" occurs, and there are terrifying public service ads on the radio every summer attesting to the hazards of such wanton folly.

It's a bit like the Irish response to the sun when all caution is thrown to the winds and we strip down to skimpy shorts and tops, resulting in the transformation of alabaster-white flesh turning an alarming lobster pink over the course of a day or two, with the trademark bra-strap stripes, and the promise of pain to follow as we won't risk missing out on a minute of potential tanning by applying anything with a higher SPF than about 5. We also revel in that peculiarity known only to the Irish male as the "man tan" where the arms and neck go pink and perhaps brown, or freckly, and when this manly specimen bares the torso on the beach he appears to have a t-shirt on, such is the demarcation of the man-tan!

We have been home for twelve years now, and have always had charcoal barbecues, perhaps a touch of nostalgia for the ubiquitous "jiko ya mkaa" or charcoal stoves we had in Africa, there of necessity rather than choice. We eschewed the gas barbie as being too easy and not quite pukka, not the real deal and maybe we were a bit too smug about our allegiance to the labour-intensive charcoal. Waiting an hour to get the glowing coals seemed quite normal, and you can't beat the all-pervasive smell of chargrilled food. We had gone through two or three stoves in the past decade, as the coal just seemed to burn through the base or the cast-iron was too heavy for the legs and they just broke, and we ended up putting the base up on blocks. It was high time for a move upmarket and we agreed to go for a nice gas barbie with lava rocks to replace the charcoal and give that smoky flavour.

Hubby is one of those decisive types when shopping - unlike me who can dither for Ireland, and spend days and weeks agonising over the merits of one item over another before (almost invariably) deciding on the item I saw first - he will enter a shop and leave within 10 minutes having completed the purchase. I can't get used to it after over 30 years, and it has me convinced that men really are from another planet when it comes to shopping. (It's the same with clothes, and that is definitely a gender thing, as the boys are exactly the same, in and out of Dunnes or Penneys in minutes, whereas teenage daughter and myself can browse for hours though I am no way a shopaholic!)

Within minutes we were the proud owners of a fancy gas barbecue, with lots of bells and whistles, figuratively speaking, and we went home salivating in anticipation of the culinary delights that beckoned. First the thing had to be assembled, which, as every Ikea flat-pack veteran knows, involves how-to leaflets, with odd diagrams and even odder piles of equipment. This is strictly a boy zone and I leave them to it while I marinade the meat and prepare the salad, spuds, garlic bread and fried rice, which is what we had with our inaugural barbie this summer. Imagine, not having our first barbie until late June! That has to be a record as the earliest we had one was in an unusually warm March some years back. Somehow global warming has passed Ireland by - if it's out there somewhere, no-one's told us about it, and we certainly haven't got much to show for it. There are days like during the torrential thunderstorms this week that we'd happily say - bring it on!

We had barbies every day for that week, with hubby at the helm with the new BBQ weapons of mass destruction to hand, though he drew the line at the canvas apron they all came wrapped up in. The barbie even thoughtfully has a beercan/glass holder! We thoroughly enjoyed eating alfresco every evening, pretending we were in Spain or Africa or anywhere that good weather is a given, with a midweek glass of wine almost de rigueur. Then last Sunday the good weather broke and we had a week of humidity with monsoon rains, thunderstorms, flash flooding and all the ensuing havoc. In other words, normal life resumed, just in case we were getting too complacent! Our barbie has gone back to the shed, and we look forward to its next outing, in the hope of an early release! Carpe diem really does apply to Ireland and its weather, and perhaps it should be a motto for living our lives all the time.


Irene said...

Hi Catherine, I really enjoyed this post and your description of all your barbecues and the kinds of tans in Ireland. It read like a train and I was ready for more when I came to the end. I always like it when you write about your home life and the ordinary every day things. Anything specifically Irish is enormously appreciated. Like the 'man tan.'


Jo said...

Hi Catherine;) I've missed your blog. I loved this post. Had a good chuckle and how men can decide on an item, pay for it and walk out! Thanks for sharing this wonderful week of good weather and bbq-ing.

Peggy said...

The joys of Irish BBQ, there must always be plan B, eat in the house.That week in June was summer as it should be, warm and wind less.

Catherine said...

Hi all and thanks a million for the kind comments. Always nice to get feedback and I feel then I'm not blogging into an empty cyberspace!

IRENE - glad you enjoyed the post, and laughed that you said it read like a train as it was written at pretty much the same tempo. I don't do editing and I just write better when I sit down and write from the heart. This was one of those posts! I guess I wander all over the shop with my tangents and digressing. Is the man-tan a particularly Irish trait? I think so as it goes with the psyche - Irish men don't do tanning like their olive skinned Mediterranean cousins but they sure like to think they do! Hence the often hilarious results. The women are as bad, generally style, taste and dress codes take a holiday as women will wear totally unsuitable and unflattering gear in the sun- think halter tops, boob tubes where there is way too much boob for the tube to contain, and shorts and miniskirts displaying legs better kept under wraps. I favour bermuda length and crop pants myself! Perhaps I should have continued the post along those lines!
Have been very busy lately with blogging taking a back seat so it's nice to see you all again!

Catherine said...

JO - Thanks for the nice comment, glad to be back blogging if not bbq-ing - the weather is foul right now with heavy downpours daily - showers they laughingly call them as they occur sporadically and totally unpredictably and invariably catch you out with a drenching. Also you can be in the middle of said shower while a half mile away the sun can shine and not a drop of rain fall. I travelled to Dublin this weekend and it was like this, rain so heavy the wipers could hardly manage, and then sun and dry road a bit further on.
As for the shopping bit , it can be traumatic at times to deal with as it goes against the grain and I can imagine my indecisiveness is equally frustrating to the men in my life! I am definitely more of an impulse shopper as the thought of setting off to buy something specific is anathema to me and my favourite things are generally "finds" when I wasn't looking! Although I got a nice evening "frock" in M&S last year which I actually went looking for as I needed a party dress for mayoral gigs during hubby's Mayor year where I was invited along - not too many as there's nothing more infuriating to the public than the thought that the taxpayer might be funding junkets for the elected member and their partner, so any gigs tend to be things like Chamber of Commerce where they give tickets to the Mayor and it isn't a junket, or some awards charity event with sponsors who can afford it. I always ensure any conference I went to with him was "cost-neutral" - ie. we paid our hotel costs.
So that's why I am not fashionable according to teenage daughter!

Catherine said...

PEGGY - ha the secret life of the Irish BBQ - cook in any weather condition but be prepared to eat in the kitchen! We have some great photos (as yet unscanned) of a BBQ some years back with friends just back from a summer in his home country of Bosnia - with tons of sunshine - where both hubbys are huddled under enormous golf umbrellas to keep the torrential rain off the charcoal while they struggle to get the sausages cooked! Admitting defeat to the vagaries of the elements just isn't part of the male make-up where BBQ-ing is concerned! They will never let the weather come between them and a good nosh-up, and it would be the antithesis of manliness to be stymied by a drop of rain! This week has certainly challenged our hopes for a bit of summer at last after the years of hellish weather. Thankfully I am off to Spain with guaranteed sun mid-next week!
We might get more bbq-ing meanwhile though I won't hold my breath!
Hope all is well, sorry I haven't replied to your comment on my last post on the Ryan report - I will do so.

Caroline said...

Ha Ha laughed & laughed when I read this post. You know our Aussie guys love to BBQ & do it fantastic. Oh and they are so tanned as well!! I mean where else but Australia.... Skin Cancer capital of the world....

Niamh Griffin said...

It's funny how everyone comments on the sunburns and man-tans but we go out and do it again anyhow! Great read Catherine - your bbq looks great too, I really hope you'll get to take it out again soon :)

Catherine said...

CAROLINE - glad you liked this post, of course Aussies do barbies like no-one else, born with the bbq gene! And they have the tinnies and tans to go with it- of course they are probably too cool for the slip-slap-slop mantra I always associated with Aussie friends when we lived in SE Asia! Yet in Ireland we have to make hay when the sun shines, so to speak, substitute barbie for hay! I have been away from blogging for too long, in that I haven't had much time to read and comment as much as I would like to. I loved the photos of your kids on horseback. and to read of the cold weather you have, probably like our Irish summer! Have a good one,

Catherine said...

NIAMH - thanks for the comment, too true, we never learn but sunshine causes a memory block on all the bad weather we had and the likely side-effects of excessive sun - hence the man-tan and sunburn. I recall seeing it at its best in Tanzania when sun-virginal (male)flesh fresh from Ireland was exposed to the equatorial sun for the first time - it was not a pretty sight and I often had to deal with the fallout and administer large doses of TLC and calamine lotion, not to mention rehydration as the sun indulgence often coincided with over-indulgence in alcohol, a few beers by the pool or the beach, never mind the consequences!
I will have a look over at your blog and get my thinking cap on for my guest slot!