Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Barbecue to Make Blue Peter Proud

The season was over, the last of the tourists had been coached back to the airport and flown off to Northern climes many and varied. The sun beds were being collected and stacked on the beaches and the roads were instantly more enjoyable to drive along, with all the brightly-coloured hire cars being parked up for another winter. It was the first week of November 2011, a week when the 5th of the month fell on a Saturday.

My wife had spent the summer season working part-time for a nice couple who live in Psaltos Bay; the hubby Alex is Greek and his wife "Boo" is English. Yvonne-Maria had cleaned some villas for them and now the season was over they'd decided to hold a Barbecue and invite the workers (which number precisely two, my wife and her friend Jess), plus a few assorted neighbours to an al fresco soiree in their ample sized garden, just a few hundred yards up the hill from the beach. It was a "thank-you for your hard work" to the girls and a chance to get to know a few more people.

Not wishing to turn up empty-handed, my wife knocked up a dish to take with us and we grabbed a couple of bottles of wine en route, before turning up as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain, lengthening the shadows and bringing to a close a warm day on which we'd been for a swim on the beach at Kiotari to which we can walk from home and often do.

Entering our friends' garden to be greeted by their scrubbing brush of a dog, all wagging tail and welcoming yap, we glanced along the garden toward the pile of logs which would be burning brightly and cooking the fare on offer for the guests in just a while. We entered the house and so began the introductions. There was a very nice couple, owners of one of the houses which the girls cleaned, who were spending some warm late summer days at their villa, with a view to shortening the British winter just a tad, before jetting back to the UK for the last time in the year. Also, there were the new nextdoor neighbours of our hosts, together with their grown-up daughter, still feeling their Rhodean feet having only moved in a few days before. There was Jess and her man Adonis with their nine-year-old daughter Livvy, plus a few others who we talked to on and off as the evening progressed, but couldn't hope to remember much about  - introduction overkill having kicked in!

After a pleasant half-hour or so chatting in the kitchen, we gradually moved out into the garden, where Alex was busy lighting the fire, which consisted of several huge logs which bore the promise of burning for hours, along with some smaller brush which was serving as kindling material. before long a bright blaze was turning all our faces orange as we sat, wine or beer in hand in bonhomie all around the pyre, glad of its warmth, even though the evening wasn't particularly cold. But with the night time sky ever deepening in hue overhead and the stars pinpricking the canopy like diamonds on a bolt of black silk, it was one of those times when you just need some flames as a focal point around which the company can nestle in complete comfort to induce that wonderful torpor that indicates that you're truly relaxed.

Sitting with Adonis and musing over the latest events in the unfolding saga of Greece's economic woes, as well as covering our ruminations on how the season had gone, I found myself wondering how Alex was going to do the barbecuing for those who were going to be eating the meat. A table had been set on the uneven ground and loaded with all kinds of appealing stuff. There were bowls of olives, huge bowls of different kinds of salad, ranging from the traditional Greek salad, topped with crumbled Feta cheese to pasta salads with tuna and mayo. There was a plentiful supply of still warm bread and pans of home-made patates tiganites (chips, folks! [fries if you're in America]). There were the required stacks of plates, mugs holding cutlery, plus serviettes in ample supply. The beer and wine was in no danger of running out when Alex disappeared around the other side of the house and reappeared within seconds wheeling a cement-encrusted wheelbarrow, within which was a wooden-handled spade and a metal barbecue grill.

I watched, fascinated, as he set the wheelbarrow a few feet from both the table and the bonfire, fished the metal grill out of the wheelbarrow, set it to one side and took hold of the garden spade. Approaching the now well-established fire, he shoved the spade deep into its heart and withdrew it in a shower of sparks, laden with hot glowing embers, which he then shot into the wheelbarrow. After having done this a couple of times, he set the spade down, picked up the grill and dropped it across the top of the wheelbarrow. Hey presto! A barbecue! Blue Peter couldn't have done better. Sweeping the cooking foil from the top of a couple of dishes laden with chops, steaks and all sorts of other stuff to keep the carnivores among us happy, he began laying the offerings all across the top of the grill and soon the smoke and odour of roasting meat was floating across the garden. Someone then told us that they had a few fish set aside especially to whack on there too for Yvonne-Maria and I. How thoughtful.

Just a little later and all could be seen perched with plates on laps, busily setting to work removing their contents and shoving it down eager and hungry throats. For a few minutes the conversation lagged as the serious business of sating hungry stomachs took precedence, but, gradually, as we reached that stage where we might wander over to the table to pick at a few more olives, or a couple of rapidly cooling chips, perhaps to glean the last of one's favourite salad from its decimated bowl, the chat regained momentum and yarns were weaved, experiences shared and friendships formed or deepened.

At some point Boo produced an ancient radio/CD player with the intention of getting a few of us up on our feet to dance. As is par for the course in Greece, we fiddled with the blessed thing for ages before deciding that the CD player wasn't working any more and so I was delegated to fish through the FM airwaves in search of some "Laika" music to which we might be able to dance. Once or twice I succeeded and few got up and formed a line and embarrassing attempts at a few Greek dances were made. They didn't come to much, but it didn't really matter.

All together it was a magical soiree. By about eleven thirty some had drifted away, having done the rounds of "goodnights, nice to have seen/met yous" and a few of us remained, mesmerised by the still glowing logs which were the focal point in the ring of chums. The conversation reached the confidential stage, where knots of just two or three talked in suppressed whispers, but all felt sublimely content.

I remember glancing around, my face now warmed to a pink glow by several hours exposure to a log fire in close proximity, then upward at the awesome Greek night sky and thinking - is there really anything else one could ask for of an evening? Reluctantly we finished our last drinks and arose to bid goodnight to our hosts, to Jess and Adonis, their daughter Livvy now draped across her mother's lap in an attempt to get comfy enough to drop off, and one or two others who'd stayed the course.

Promises were made to get together over the winter months, and we were soon in our little car, cruising gently home under a sky in which the Milky Way was so clear you could see it as a bright dusty trail running from horizon to horizon. Orion was up there poised as ever and the Great Bear showed us how to locate the North star.

Such nights bless our lives now and again. It's good to savour them. Wonder if Alex has a Blue Peter badge.

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