Sunday, 3 June 2012

Congratulations and Jubileeations

Whatever one might think of the institution of monarchy generally or in the UK specifically, avoiding the splurge of Diamond Jubilee events is next to impossible.

There is something altogether surreal about watching an elderly woman who always seems mild enough and who has few meaningful powers (although let’s not forget the Privy Council) being fawned on by people.

Large sections of the media in particular seem to be having a pre-Olympic competition in sycophancy and hyperbole.

Perhaps we need a figurehead. Perhaps not. Perhaps a monarch is better than a president. Perhaps not.

But whichever side of that little debate you come down on, it’s a tad disingenuous to go on at length about her longevity when, unlike the overwhelming majority of her subjects, she has all the benefits of just about the best of everything – including health care – and certainly doesn’t have to get up in the morning worrying about what to get the children for tea – or whether she can afford to pay the gas that will allow her to cook it.

And indeed, to pick up a popular theme amongst some, her model of family life, which on the surface is the oft-spouted ideal, does not seem to have produced great success in terms of her children’s own relationship histories.

Although of course, living in a goldfish bowl doesn’t help. But if that’s the case, then why do we pretty much expect the monarchy to display itself to us – and condemn other celebrities if they do something similar?

The House of Windsor is largely another form of mass entertainment. It’s just one that we all pay for.

So, to jubilate or not to jubilate? That is the question.

Well, since it is probably nobler to join in than to sit churlishly on the sidelines, when the subject of a BBQ was raised among some of our neighbours, I was more than happy.

Indeed, while it’s a pity that it seems to take something like this to get communities mixing, it’s one of the ideas behind today’s Jubilee Lunch.

Our neighbours, though, don’t generally need quite as much encouragement to mingle. For around nearly half the residents of our block, the sun is all that’s required.

The gate that is now in action in our garden, allowing us easy access to the carpark, makes it easier for us to join in too.

On Friday, I nipped down to Borough – first to Savannah, a shop specialising in South African produce that sits under London Bridge station.

There I picked up two packs of boerewors, a six-pack of Castle for The Other Half to imbibe while doing his Man Cooking, and a small bag of biltong to make sure the cats had some sort of treat for the weekend too.

At the market, I found more beers – blonde and dark Brugse Zot from Brugge, plus a US craft beer, Blue Moon, which I decided to pick up for as naff a reason as that being the Manchester City fans’ theme song. I have to say, it's very nice.

I had bottles of magnificent Bavarian white beer Franziskaner due to arrive in an order the following day, together with the necessary ingredients for trifle.

The plan was to have our little party on Sunday, but by Friday evening, the weather forecast was very poor, with Saturday looking like much the best option.

It meant a few changes – the trifle was put on hold – but nothing we couldn’t cope with.

In the late morning, The Other Half made dough for roosterkoek – a South African bread that you cook on the griddle of the braai (BBQ) – while I scraped close to nearly one and a half kilos of Jersey Royals and then cooked them until just ready.

With all this in mind, last weekend, I’d cooked chicken in a pot with water, the giblets, range juice and rind, black pepper, bay and lashings of tarragon, then frozen the stock.

Now, this was brought back to a simmer and then poured over the just-cooked spuds. After a couple of hours, the potatoes had absorbed much of the liquid, taking on the flavours. All that remained was to take a few chives from the garden and snip them over the top.

I’ve bnot actually done much in the way of entertaining, so the amount had been a guess. But it worked well – and I’m delighted that the potato salad was very popular.

So too were The Other Half’s bread and the boerewors that he cooked on our small BBQ, which we wheeled through the gate to join the bigger party.

Two neighbours had put bunting up and, as we sat around, feeling chilled and under a grey sky, it was hard to imagine anything much more British.

But the sun suddenly pushed its way through the cloud, the day suddenly bright and hot.

Later, there were enough ripe strawberries to hand round a small bowl, ensuring everyone had the chance to try at least one.

The stunned expressions and comments as people realised the difference of what they were tasting was perhaps particularly gratifying – simply because it reassures me that I’m not deluding myself about the difference in taste.

Looking back, I don’t think that, even as the bunting fluttered in the breeze, anyone mentioned or gave a thought to the anniversary that it was all supposed to be about.

Beer was quaffed, music played, banter enjoyed – and every one of our small community, from one to 50-odd, seemed to be relaxed and thoroughly at ease.

And if that's not worth a spot of jubilating, then what is?

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